Mystery Mislabeled Seed Packets from China Being Received in Utah and Virginia

Photo of mystery seeds from China supplied by the Virginia Department of Agriculture via Twitter.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A very odd story, people in Utah and Virginia have reported receiving unsolicited packets of seeds from China, mislabelled as Jewellery. Utah and Virginia Agriculture departments are investigating.

Mysterious seeds sent from China to Utah

By: Adam HerbetsPosted at 9:13 PM, Jul 22, 2020  and last updated 3:41 AM, Jul 24, 2020

TOOELE, Utah — Over the past few weeks, people in Utah have been reporting mysterious packages they’ve been receiving in the mail from China.

Lori Culley, who lives in Tooele, said she was excited to find two small packages in her mailbox on Tuesday. Although most of the writing on the outside was in Chinese, the label indicated there would be earrings inside.

“I opened them up and they were seeds,” Culley said. “Obviously they’re not jewelry!”

Culley couldn’t understand why she would be receiving mislabeled seeds from China in the mail, but at first she didn’t think much of it.

She posted about the strange incident on Facebook, where some of her friends reminded her plants and seeds are strictly regulated in Utah.

FOX 13 has confirmed the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food will likely team up with Customs and Border Protection agents to investigate.

Read more: https://www.fox13now.com/news/local-news/utah-department-of-agriculture-investigates-mysterious-seeds-sent-from-china-to-tooele

The following is a tweet of seeds collected by Virginia Department of Agriculture (h/t Fox News).

Even Snopes accepts that people have been receiving unsolicited packets of seeds from China, though they question people jumping to conclusions, ascribing harmful motives to whoever is sending the seeds.

Virginia Department of Agriculture advises people not to plant the seeds.

PRESS RELEASES

July 24, 2020
Public Asked To Report Receipt of any Unsolicited Packages of Seeds
Contact: Michael Wallace, 804.786.1904

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has been notified that several Virginia residents have received unsolicited packages containing seeds that appear to have originated from China. The types of seeds in the packages are unknown at this time and may be invasive plant species. The packages were sent by mail and may have Chinese writing on them.

Please do not plant these seeds. VDACS encourages anyone who has received unsolicited seeds in the mail that appears to have Chinese origin to contact the Office of Plant Industry Services (OPIS) at 804.786.3515 or through the ReportAPest@vdacs.virginia.gov email.

Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.

Source: http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/press-releases-200724-seeds.shtml

Obviously at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions its easy to suspect the worst. But the seeds could have nothing to do with the Chinese Government. The simple truth is everyone seems to be guessing, nobody seems to have any idea why someone decided to send packets of seeds to random people in the USA.

I think the key takeaway is don’t plant them. Don’t even try to burn them, if they are toxic the smoke from burning even a small number of seeds could harm you. Call your local department of Agriculture to dispose of them safely.

If any botanists out there have any idea what the seeds are, please post in comments.

125 thoughts on “Mystery Mislabeled Seed Packets from China Being Received in Utah and Virginia

  1. Are they set up with bot box?

    Or did they order something from Wish?

    Bot box might explain it….how they got the order that is. As for the seeds themselves, if they were all labeled jewelry, sounds like a shipping mixup OR a translation problem.

  2. I think they are carob seeds. They were used as a standard measure (Karat) in jewelry for the property of having the same weight each seed.

    • Clearly you are correct. They are also used as beads to make jewelery. They are quite useful to weigh down the edges of tin foil hats.

      • Ever wonder where the term ‘carat’ originates from?

        ‘Carat’ is a term used to describe the weight of a diamond, and the word originates from Ceratonia siliqua, commonly known as the Carob tree.

        In ancient times, before scales and units of mass were invented, diamond traders compared the weight of a diamond to the seeds of the Carob tree. Each Carob seed had a uniform weight, equal to 0.20 grams or 200 milligrams and hence determined the weight of the diamond.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carat_(mass)

      • This was my thought as well. I’ve done some outreach/education work for parents on drugs and analogues that teens can easily get their hands on. Morning glory is one of many semi-legal “highs”. Legality varies by jurisdiction. You can but these at the dollar store where I live.

        Many vendors on many platforms will send small orders to real verifiable addresses, then leave positive feedback, as a way to astroturf a positive rating and high sales count.

        Photo of morning glory seeds and a description of non-horticultural usage here:

        https://erowid.org/plants/morning_glory/morning_glory_basics.shtml

        Education and harm reduction is important in my opinion. Seeds are often coated in toxic anti-fungal and other agents and the seeds contain many different substances in addition to the “desirable” ones that can cause violent (albeit usually temporary) illness. And like any novel substance, interactions with other medications, pre-existing conditions, etc. could conceivably lead to very bad outcomes.

    • Would carob seeds be used for beads though?

      I could see for gems, but most things labeled “jewelry” are beads.

      • Labeling as jewelry helps get around phytosanitary import requirements for inbound seeds/plants.

        • Yes, exactly. If they had been labelled accurately, they would have been blocked at customs

          • I’ve gotten my two accurately labeled packets of seeds from China recently, bamboo and dwarf weeping willow, both were accurate.

            The theory of phyto avoiding on customs is laughable.

          • Seeds and plants are supposed to be inspected by the Dept of Agriculture. But it’s likely the case that they could declare the stuff as opium poppy seeds, infused with plutonium and anthrax, and 99 out of 100 packets would sail through customs unchecked.

          • “Prjindigo July 26, 2020 at 1:01 pm”

            Depends where you live. Here in Australia you can be heavily fined for taking apples across state borders. You can be fined at the border at airports if not declaring fruit given to you on the plane.

            But I get your point. Border control can’t catch everything, sometimes guns and tonnes of drugs get though with a carefully selected and placed border “official”.

          • My at the time 9-yr-old daughter got off to a bad start on our visit to Sydney due to an apple, so I know what you’re talking about.

          • Re: Prjindigo

            Sincere question: How does your anecdote make the theory laughable?

            Phythosanitary restrictions are real (in the US anyway), even if not a priority for enforcement. A savy business person in China would be aware of this and if they were either unable to get approval, or couldn’t be bothered, it’s a reasonable strategy to simply change the labeling. As others have pointed out some seeds are indeed used as beads making a jewelry label plausible should the package be inspected.

            Your successful import of seeds could mean that you were dealing with a reputable supplier that had appropriate documentation.

            For example USDA (APHIS) provides permits for up to 3-years for ongoing importation of small seed lots. This means a phytosanitary certificate is not required if conditions of the permit are adhered to. Conditions include package labeling requirements and a number of excluded species/genus/types.

          • Wouldn’t Pu radiations neutralize anthrax?
            Like disinfectant (or light) does for corona.

    • Look far too grey and angular for carob but I like the carob/karat idea: could tie in with possible translation error.

      How long does it take Department of Agriculture to identify a seed ?!

      Seems an unlikely “mistake”. Maybe they are now trying to spread a plant virus to further cripple the economy.

      • My question, also. How long can it take to identify seeds? I’ve seen pictures of a couple of variations on what was received, but there are databases everywhere of what seeds look like. It’s very odd that no one seems to know what these are.

  3. “Don’t even try to burn them, if they are toxic the smoke from burning even a small number of seeds could harm you.”
    Are there really seeds on earth that are toxic to burn or is this someone’s fantasy on steroids.

    • While the seeds themselves might not be toxic, they could have been soaked in a toxic substance then dried leaving a toxic coating on the outside. Possibly even a dried poison which could be absorbed through the skin making the recipient sick when wet seeds are touched.

    • Poison Ivy, Giant Hogweed, Foxglove for starters. No doubt about it, burning the seeds can be big trouble.
      No telling what other fun plants they have in Asia.
      Also, you get an invasive species going, they can be almost impossible to get rid of.

    • Both. Back in the day when they were being banned, I was led to believe that the combustion of PCBs created the most deadly poisons known to man. Dioxins for example. As far as I can tell after a web search, dioxins are nowhere near the most deadly poisons known to man.

      Anyway, the incomplete combustion of the seeds could create dioxins and furans and they might possibly harm you by increasing your chance of developing cancer or something like that. As far as I can tell, the wood dust in buddy’s workshop is quite a bit more dangerous. Same for the chemicals used in an auto body shop.

      Based on a deep understanding gained by scanning a couple of Wikipedia articles, I would say that burning incense probably creates dioxins and furans.

      • I’ve read that burning incense in Catholic cathedrals has protected the wood from insects. I don’t recall that the article mentioned why.
        Maybe it also causes parishioners to look old. {invoke Poe’s Law}

        • Over many centuries of candle-burning, wax condenses and builds up on surfaces inside a cathedral — particularly the ceiling. This accounts for many older ceiling paintings looking much more brilliant in color contrast after the paintings are cleaned.

      • bob I dont think a few grams of whatever seeds is going to harm anyone
        you wouldnt(or shouldnt) be standing over the burning area inhaling anyway;-)
        they could be a weed but unless someone plants them ?
        anyones guess.

    • WebMD: “Ricin from the hull of the castor seed has been tested as a chemical warfare agent. Weapons-grade ricin is purified and produced in particles that are so small they can be breathed in. The smaller the particle size, the more poisonous the ricin.”

      • Used by the communists to assasinate the dissident bulgarian George Markov:
        -“Georgi Markov was assassinated on a London street via a micro-engineered pellet containing ricin, fired into his leg from an umbrella wielded by someone associated with the Bulgarian Secret Service. It has been speculated that they asked the KGB for help.[2]”-
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgi_Markov

        • As unlikely as it seems “Ogiri-isi” is a humanly edible preparation of the castor seed perfected in a traditional Nigerian process. I never tried their method despite lots of seeds produced near my tropical farm house.

  4. I’m 100% convinced that they contain, at the moment an undetected weaponized virus ..
    weaponized curly top
    weaponized mosaic
    weaponized psorosis
    weaponized spotted wilt
    Of course something new, and of course deadly..h/t Xitler’s RED China.*cough-spit*
    Never forget, the world is a science lab to them…

    • The taxonomy of seeds is very slim. Taxonomy of a whole specimen plant is tough by itself without context clues.

  5. Look to see what genetically modified “chimera” seeds have recently been banned from being circulated inside China, yet are still approved for export …

  6. looks like morning glory (farmers know them as bindweed) seeds.
    got quite a bit around here, got them in areas where I actually want them and are pretty.
    so NOT plant unless you know the specifics of how these grow, spread by roots too, can have feelers few feet deep and MANY feet long, followed one here 20+ feet that was 8-12 inches deep.

    • Garden types of Morning Glory are grown for their large flowers, 4 to 5 inches across. Bindweed that I know has small flowers (an inch across), but I only have seen the one type.

      • Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), also known as morning glory

        mainegov-images.informe(DOT)org/dacf/php/gotpests/weeds/factsheets/morning-glory-wash.pdf

        replace (DOT) with . for url/link.
        pink ones here openings about 2-3 inches, very pretty. need to be very very careful about where to plant and disposing of clippings.

        • … flowers that are mostly white but may contain pink, and are about an inch or two in diameter. The flowers . . . may be in groups of 2 or 3.

          – – an inch or two – –

          • just went out and measured some on plant closest to house crawling up a lilac tree.
            3 were 1 1/2 inches.
            4 are 1 3/4 inches.
            6 are 2 to 2 1/2 inches.
            2 are 2 3/4 inches.
            basically all over the place from 1 1/2 to 2 3/4 inches.
            sent samples to University Maine coop few years back, wanted to verify it as it was in large (40 or so cubic yards) compost pile I had. they identified as Convolvulus arvensis.

  7. Likely another gain-of-function genetic engineering “research” project from Red China that produced a chimera that was far too dangerous to release, or even dispose of, with its own borders. The straightforward method of eliminating their problem is to distribute all of the product to other nations and have them handle it. 😉

    • The initial leak in Wuhan was probably an accident. But they cannot pretend that having stopped all internal travel, allowing ( indeed promoting ) tens of thousands of international flights was not a deliberate attempt to infect the rest of the planet.

      Either that or they figured they needed some plausible deniability and with 2 billion population and a skewed demographic from the “one child” policy, they figured they could handle some losses in predominantly “senior” tranche of the population.

      • I don’t think it was a manufactured virus. (I sure hope it wasn’t or we a royally screwed). But, I think they were experimenting with animals that carried corona viruses and they did not handle them with proper bio-security. There is a letter from US diplomatic attaches in late 2019 telling the State Department that the Wuhan Lab is poorly managed.

        I also firmly believe that the Chinese regime decided the ability of the virus to systematically kill senior citizens was a feature not a bug. They have simply stopped looking for or reporting deaths from WuFlu.

        • Ummm, Walter . . . in your parenthetical comment in the first sentence of your post, please justify your use of the word “or”.
          😉

  8. What worries me: is for every person who reports these mystery seeds, there might be 100 who either tosses them in the trash or plants them.

    • Plan A:
      Send the seeds to thousands of random addresses. This provides cover, and plausable deniability, for your real plan of getting the seeds to your operatives all over the country. True, the athorities are alerted, but confusion results, and you have a good diversion. Remember, when someone creates a diversion, there is a reason for it.

      Me? No, I am not paranoid, why do you ask?

  9. Clearly, those are beans of the Jacobus Flavus variety. In some circles, these are considered fair exchange for a cow. Just throw them out of a window at night and see what you get in the morning. You might be surprised.

  10. My guess is daylily [Hemerocallis] seeds, which are fairly round, most often shiny black, and are shipped worldwide by daylily growers. I grow daylilies myself, and have shipped seeds to a few places in the US, but not overseas. The morning glory seeds shown are not like daylily seeds: they are pointed and not round as daylily seeds are. Daylily seeds, of course, are quite harmless in their natural state; but until the seeds in the photo are analyzed, no one knows what treatments, chemicals, or other agents may have been applied to them. Further, if they are not daylily seeds, they may be of some highly invasive and destructive genus. I would say that turning them over to the state Agricultural department would be best. I live in Virginia and imagine that our state ag agents would be good people to verify the source and nature of the seeds.

  11. My plant identifier app matches these most closely to seeds of a Chinese Tallow tree, common in the SE USA. Considered an ornamental tree but also invasive.

  12. Seed smugglers got their customer data base hacked/swapped/mixed up ?
    Has no expert identified what type of plant they’re off ?

  13. Triffid seeds. Grown for their high quality oils. Available through John Wyndham Seeds And Other Exotica. (like saw blade launchers)

  14. From the online pictures I am seeing the type of seeds vary from post to post. Some are tan in color, while others are dark brown. In other cases the packet of seeds varies both in color, shape, and size.

  15. – since last year people have been receiving stuff from China they didn’t order, low value things like jewelry and seeds. Always involving Amazon or Walmart (these latest unsolicited seed are Amazon) because both companies have a seller scoring system that relies on customer reviews.

    – the Customs mis-declaration of ‘jewelry’ in packages containing seeds is a known phenomenon to bypass Dept of Ag screening. Traditionally misdeclarations of contents in this ‘pre-cleared’ mail would have harsh consequences applied by the sending country because they value open trade and do not want to run afoul of US Customs. China doesn’t care because we all wanted unrestricted commerce and we’re kinda mean towards them recently so why would they go out of their way to cooperate.

    – yes some of the seeds may be for invasive species. People also ask for and pay for invasive species. It’s kind of surreal that the fear-porn artists present this in a new tone of threat voice as if China suddenly made invasive plant species a branch of their military.

    – during lockdown many people have been ordering seeds from Amazon. Not the people that received the mystery seeds but others. All seed companies are scrambling to be the ones to meet this demand.

    – The Crappy Seed Co. of China or its Representative (A) has an Amazon reputation that is slipping, customers complain. The company claims exotic rose hybrids and sends regular rose seeds. Some seeds are mixed with weeds. Things are mislabeled, counts vary but everything’s cheap because Amazon ship from China is partly subsidized with your tax dollars. They see their sales drop off as Amazon pushes their listings down on the list and want to jump on top again.

    – Crappy Seed Co. (A) hires Amazon hacker (B) to ‘boost’ their sales on Amazon.

    – (B) is in possession of ID information for some US people, preferably NOT existing Amazon customers. Simple not so threatening stuff like (Name, Address, Phone). They create new fake Amazon accounts for each of these people (and unique emails) and actually buy (A)’s product, actually have it shipped to the USA. Actual people get a mystery package. Before the fear-porn during pandemic people would just shrug and keep or throw away the product.

    – After delivery the fake accounts are confirmed buyers and review (A) with 5 star reviews and positive comments. Crappy Seed Co rises in the rankings again and makes more sales. Easily outweighing the small cost of items and (B)’s administrative fee.

    – The fake account is even saved for later, when (B) gets paid by someone else to ‘boost’ their Amazon sales rank. Then the person might receive another mystery product. Amazon does cross checking on phone number so the fake accounts benefit greatly from being a real person with that phone number. For all Amazon knows they are a new customer or additional person at that address.

    – the (required by Customs) recipient phone number shown on at least one package is +1 210-728-4548 ext. xxxxx which is in San Antonio TX. It is actually an Amazon corporate number that was set up to anonymize buyers. If you call that number and enter the xxxxx extension it forwards the call to the actual customer phone (in this case the person receiving the mystery package). That was my clue that the mystery packages were Amazon buys.

    – so people are getting cheap things they didn’t order is “brush scam” and it represents a low impact identify theft.

  16. You can order many kinds of flower and garden-plant seeds on Wish, Alibaba and other platforms, for pennies. As the value is below the non-taxable limit anyway, the sellers generally won’t care what they put on the customs labels (they don’t with other things either, nor do sellers from other countries – it is a silly thing to begin with that you have to declare content when it is clear from the value of the package that it will not be subject to import duties because it counts as a valueless sample). All this is common practice, though strictly speaking not correct of course, anyone who has ever bought small household things etc. online knows that. After the stuff arrives, it is very easy to claim it was unsolicited, call the police and the press, and very conveniently fuel the current public unrest and anti-Chinese racism. Or you have them sent to an unwitting third party, then they are really unsolicited and you don’t even need to fake the panic. China (meaning the totalitarian government of the country, not the population!) does a lot of very problematic if not downright evil things. This however is just sophomoric nonsense, either calculated fearmongering or a childish prank. I suspect Antifa, or “anti-Globalists” trying to sabotage worldwide trade, behind this non-news.

  17. Astounding that the inept clowns at the Virginia Department of Agriculture can’t identify the seeds after what…3 weeks? Man, have we Americans been asleep at the switch. 90% of our “leaders” are little more than incompetent fraudulent grifters. Someone bring the seeds to a gardening club or something…where the amatures can help us out! Sheesh! You can’t make it up!

  18. My experience: 20 yr mixed vege farmer, w a Chinese medicine license and lots of herbal cultivation and landscape exp too.

    All seed pics don’t look like anything I’ve worked with I can recall. Certainly not any common Chinese veges. It could be brushing(sending out CCP free shipped crap for fake domestic reviews), but I doubt it.

    I’d be very suspicious they were invasives, or worse – bio-engineered. There have been weird mystery drone sightings in US Ag land w odd FBI requests for all night vision goggles at same time. Clearly bio-terrorism is real.

  19. These are obviouslt Triffid seeds, genetically engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan. If planted, they grow intp giant carnivorous plants that consume the planter when they least expect it. They are also able to move around at night to seek new victims.

    • Lol. Seriously though…I’ve had land w bad invasives – including Chinese tallow. Kudzu anyone? A few straw seeds can create an intractable problem within a decade.

  20. Cmon folks, it’s not a 007 plot with bioengineered seeds of doom. It’s just a boring scam to raise the ratings for some crooked Amazon sellers.

  21. Sheesh! NEVER open a package that you are not expecting or cannot recognise/identify.

  22. i dont know why they keep making a big deal out of this its part of a scam… they sell jewelry on line and send somthing small and stupid with a tracking number to somone.. when tracking says it arrived the money get released from places like ebay amazon etc.. they shut down the account and start a new one..99% profit

    • That might be a possible scam, if Amazon does a really crappy job verifying seller identities. But you miss the point that the recipients did not order anything on Amazon. The packages arrive unsolicited. Where’s the 99% profit in a $0 selling price? So it’s not the explanation for this case.

      By far the most likely scenario is a scheme to game the seller rating system.

  23. Would do some good to read “Pandemonium – author Andrew Nkiforuk – all about how Global Pandemics spread so rapidly due to modern commerce, have a read about bioterrorism using the global seed trade to spread pathogens Page 115 “almost every crop of any nutritional or economic significance is now under siege or has had a brush with death. Monoculture and limited genetic diversity combined with unprecedented trade in crops and seeds have given a veritable horde of fungi, viruses, bacteria and plant eating insects a competitive edge. When Tommy Thompson retired in 2004 as the U.S. secretary of health and human services, he famously remarked “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not targeted our food supply because it is easy “…

    After reading through that booklet, there are many examples of spread of such invaders and the devastation caused to economies by Black stem rust, insects and bacterium , plum pox, bean dwarf mosaic virus, and a host of others that can cause havoc to crops, soy bean rust,….or this “everyone agrees that the global exchange of agricultural pathogens is real and growing. IN FACT (at the time of writing biological invaders alone now account for about 60 percent of U.S. crop losses every year, at a cost o$137 billion.

    So don’t take any risks! unsolicited seed should be quarantined and turned over to your Department of Agriculture. for laboratory testing /destruction. Just in case…

  24. So what does the Chinese packaging say. Surely someone can read Chinese, and if not there is always Google translate.

    • I don’t see any picture of the package to check that, but your insistence on believing that this is all an innocent mistake, a simple case of a translation error where “seeds” got mistranslated to “jewelry”, and a real name and address of a non-customer randomly got typed, just by pure accident, is touching Ian. Nobody can accuse you of being biased against these hard-working Chinese entrepreneurs.

      I have a couple of bridges in my inventory that I need to sell real cheap because of tax reasons and because my cousin the Nigerian prince hasn’t been able to get his funds out of the country due to capital controls. Perhaps you’re interested?

  25. It’s the Chinese Underpants Gnomes!

    1. Collect seeds
    2. Post to Western countries
    3. ????
    4. PROFIT!!!

  26. Also received seeds in KY, though they appear to be cucumber seeds. Got the same trinket gift as pictured though.

    • Another website posted pictures of unsolicited seeds. Their color was different than those shown above & were obviously just dried lemon seeds.

      I think the commentator saying it was an Amazon seller pumping & dumping for search result positioning upwards has the story correct. Cucumber seeds arriving in KY
      are a similarly abundant seed as (say) lemon seed for dispensing.

  27. Whatever they are I would be amazed if a fair number have not already been landfilled or thrown in local garbage pits. Private garbage pits are quite common in rural areas.

    I hope the people at the Dept of Agriculture have enough sense to germinate a few in a quarantined environment for testing.

  28. Mysterious seeds? . . . Seems I’ve seen . . . Yeah, that’s the ticket, this was predicted by the SF film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” except they got one detail wrong: they weren’t giant seed pods carried around in trucks or in the trunks of cars, but instead . . .

  29. Obviously, the Ag Dept. should be all over this, however, it is most interesting that a fuzzy photo could generate what might be a never-ending conversation.

    Google Lens, says peppercorns, yet never mind that Google is a never-ending purveyor of slanted information.

  30. USDA (US Department of Agriculture) notice regarding these seed packets
    https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USDAAPHIS/bulletins/29799ba

    USDA requires import licenses for the importer, phytosanitary certificates for plants and most plant products.

    Senders of seeds and plants can receive approval ahead of time to mail plants, seeds and plant products. This requires significant efforts and inspections.

    USDA APHIS makes available mailers who have approval for sending plant material.

    Mislabeled packages are a definite sign the mailer is not approved.

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