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Minnesotans report receiving mystery seeds appearing to come from China

mystery seeds appearing to come from China with invoice and instructions
People in several states are receiving unsolicited seeds. Instructions acknowledge that the packages have been mailed and labeled falsely to avoid detection.

According to a July 27 news release from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), they  are receiving reports of residents receiving unsolicited packages of seeds appearing to come from China. Officials in other states, including Louisiana, Utah, Virginia and Washington, have reported similar situations. Any Minnesotan receiving a package of seeds they did not order should not plant the seeds and contact the MDA.

"University of Minnesota Extension educators, as well as Master Gardener volunteers and other Extension volunteers in environmental work, are sharing this information with their audiences and networks throughout all Minnesota counties," says Tim Kenny, Extension Master Gardener program director and the director of education at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. 

In a July 31 update, the MDA stated that the packages have contained a variety of seeds. Seed analysts with the MDA Laboratory have identified some as cosmos, radish, mung bean, juniper, basil, cucurbit, and zinnia. While these are not seeds from invasive plants, seeds may carry disease and pests can hide in packaging. So far, there is no indication these unsolicited seeds have gone through appropriate inspection or that they are properly labeled.

Minnesotans should do the following if they have received unsolicited packages of seeds.

  • Do not throw away the package or its contents.
  • Do not plant the seeds.
  • Contact Arrest the Pest line at 1-888-545-6684 or arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us and provide your name, contact information, and the date the package was received.

Officials will coordinate shipping the packaging and contents to the MDA Seed Program.

An update from the MDA on July 30 noted that some recipients have already planted the seeds. They advise, "If you have planted the seeds that you received, please destroy any plants that have germinated. While plants and soil are usually prohibited from trash collection, in this unusual situation we would like you to double bag all plants and associated soil to ensure containment and place the bags in the trash for disposal. If you planted the seeds into pots, we recommend that you put all of the soil and any plants into plastic trash bags and dispose of in the trash. If you planted the seeds into the ground, then pull up any seedlings, double bag them, and dispose of them in the trash. Do not compost the seeds, plants or associated soil."

The MDA is working with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance Program on identification and destruction of the seeds.

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