If you receive seeds in the mail from China that you didn’t order, beware. That’s the word from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry after some Mainers have complained of unsolicited seed shipments.

DACF is advising anyone who receives unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail to not open them and to immediately contact the department’s division of animal plant health or the USDA’s animal plant health inspection service.

Packages of seeds sent in white envelopes displaying Chinese lettering and the words “China Post” have been reported around the country. Most recipients say they did not order seeds and that the packaging was labeled as jewelry.

Gary Fish, state horticulturist with DAFC, said he has started a spreadsheet to keep track of reports coming in from people who received suspicious seeds in the mail. As of early Tuesday afternoon he was up to 25 reports from around the state.

“I have not seen anything like this before,” Fish said. “It is a concern.”

The main concern, according to agriculture officials, is the possibility of well intentioned gardeners planting these seeds and potentially introducing some sort of plant virus to the state.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry is advising anyone who receives unsolicited seeds in the mail to report them immediately to the department or to the USDA.

“We don’t know where these seeds are from or if they have been through any sanitary inspection process,” Fish said. “We don’t know if they are infected with a virus because seeds can carry things that spread from plant to plant and we would not want that in Maine.”

Even if the seeds are virus and disease free, Fish said they could be an invasive or noxious weed that would be harmful to the Maine landscape and ecosystems.

So far the seeds appear to be vegetable seeds, Fish said and the current theory among agricultural officials is that it’s part of some sort of marketing scheme.

“From what the USDA is telling us we believe they are sending out seeds to people to show they have all these customers and to make up all kinds of reviews to bolster their marketing,” Fish said. “It happens in other industries.”

As for who “they” are, Fish said it’s whatever company that is sending seeds from China.

Others have reported ordering seeds by mail through Amazon and receiving these same packages, according to DACF. It is unclear how many people in Maine received similar packages via orders from Amazon.

Because of the international shipping of the packages, any connection the packages have to online ordering habits of the recipients will be investigated by federal authorities, according to Fish.

Recipients should hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from DACF or USDA gets in touch with further instructions. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s Plant Protection and Quarantine Smuggling, Interdiction and Trade Compliance Unit is currently investigating this situation across the nation.

Even though USDA is the lead agency investigating the seeds due to the international nature of the mailings, Fish said DAFC would like to hear from anyone who received the seeds so they can maintain a database of the mailings in Maine.

Contact DACF to report seeds by calling 207-287-3200 or emailing horticulture@maine.gov. Contact the USDA office in Hermon at 207-848-0008.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.