Scientists identify 14 species among hundreds of mystery seeds sent to U.S.

Scientists identify 14 species among hundreds of mystery seeds sent to U.S.
A U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Identification Services (NIS) botanist examines seeds from an unsolicited package of seeds under a microscope. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Mustard. Cabbage. Morning glory. Mint. Sage.

That’s not a shopping list for a visit to the plant nursery. It’s five of the types of seeds federal scientists have identified among the hundreds mailed to U.S. residents without warning over the past few weeks, largely in packaging containing Chinese writing. 

According to the most recent update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the lead agency investigating the mystery seeds, 14 different species of seeds have been identified.

Besides the five listed above, scientists have also identified rosemary, lavender, hibiscus and roses. 

“This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” said Osama El-Lissy, deputy director of APHIS’s Plant Protection and Quarantine program in a clip shared by the agency online

While a spokesperson for APHIS said the agency didn’t have Virginia-specific information that has been confirmed, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Director of Communications Michael Wallace said that to date, the agency “has received 150 reports using the online reporting form, over 1,500 emails, and approximately 1,000 phone calls from individuals who received unsolicited seed shipments.”

“At this time, 500 of the 1,500 email reports are from Virginia residents,” Wallace wrote in an email to the Mercury. “The office is still sifting through emails to determine the state of residence.”

Unsolicited seed packages started appearing in the U.S. in Utah in mid-July, with Virginia officials announcing their appearance in the commonwealth July 24.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.