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Mystery solved: Those strange seeds sent from China to Florida have been identified

Species include mint, sage

More than 1,000 people in Florida have received mysterious seed packets in the mail from China.
More than 1,000 people in Florida have received mysterious seed packets in the mail from China. (USDA Photo)

The state was rattled late last week by reports of more than 1,000 Floridians receiving mystery seeds in the mail from China, despite never placing an order, and now, agriculture officials have a better idea of what exactly those seeds were.

Osama El-Lissy from the Plant Protection Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said the seeds have been identified mostly as plants you’d find in a standard backyard garden.

“We have identified 14 different species of seeds including mustard, cabbage, morning glory and some of the herbs like mint, sage, rosemary, lavender then other seeds like hibiscus and roses. This is just a subset of the samples we collected so far,” El-Lissy said.

[READ: ‘DO NOT OPEN:’ Floridians receiving suspicious seed packages through mail, officials warn | 1,200 Floridians receive suspicious seeds through mail]

While nothing harmful been identified at this time, USDA leaders are still asking that anyone who receives a packet refrain from planting it because the species could be invasive or carry diseases.

Here’s what the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recommends doing instead:

  • Do not open the seed packet and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials, if possible.
  • Place the seed packet AND mailing materials into a sealable plastic bag – this is important to determining the origin of the seeds.
  • Do not plant the seeds or discard them in trash that will be landfilled.
  • Report the seed package to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov.

While they’re still trying to determine the exact source of the seed packets, agriculture officials believe the effort is part of a “brushing scam,” which essentially is when a company sends unsolicited items to consumers and then posts reviews for those items to make it seem as if the company has more sales and customers than it actually does.

So far, the USDA believes residents in 22 states as well as Canada, Australia and the European Union have received the unwanted seed.

While the investigation is ongoing, they do not believe the seeds are harmful to anyone’s health, although to be safe gloves are recommended while handling the items.

“At this point, we have not identified any link to agro-terrorism. This is an evolving situation, and we are working closely with Federal authorities to ensure we are evaluating every possibility,” the USDA wrote on its website.

To read the USDA’s full FAQ about the seeds, click here.


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