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Did you get mystery seeds in the mail? State officials urge you to send them to the feds

Washington State Department of Agriculture

Hundreds of people in Washington are contacting state agriculture officials to report suspicious packages they’ve received containing seed packets. The unsolicited shipments, which appear to be sent from China, have popped up in more than two dozen states nationwide.

Chris McGann with the state Department of Agriculture says Washington started getting its first accounts on Friday. People describe getting a mostly unmarked package through the mail, “that says it contains jewelry or some items like that, and inside they received just a small cellophane or plastic-wrapped bunch of seeds,” McGann said.

In Washington, most of the seeds appear to resemble some kind of citrus. The federal Department of Agriculture is investigating. USDA officials are asking people not to open the packets, but to double bag them and send them in to the agency. Federal agricultural officials also don’t want people to throw them away or plant them, as they could be invasive species or carry pests or disease.

Unmarked and unreported imports of plant materials are considered agricultural smuggling. Agriculture officials across the country have been contacted by numerous people who received seed shipments they did not order. State officials here in Washington say they’ve been getting tons of traffic and shares on the agency’s Facebook posts.

“I have heard in quite a few places that people think that they should soak them in bleach or put them in the microwave or burn them,” McGann said. He urged people not to do that, as there are risks involved. “Don't try to do these other sterilization efforts or whatever they may be.”

Here’s what you should do with any mystery seeds:

Place the seeds and their packaging in a plastic bag. Place the bag in a mailing envelope and send to the USDA for investigation. Address:

USDA-APHIS-PPQ – Attn: Jason Allen Seattle Plant Inspection Station 835 South 192nd Street, Bldg D, Ste 1600 SeaTac, WA 98148.

If you’ve planted the seeds: leave the plants where they are and contact the APHIS State Plant Health Director for guidance. 

People who followed previous instructions to double bag and dispose of the seeds or plants grown from them don’t need to take further action. Questions about submitting seeds should be sent to the APHIS State Plant Health Director.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.