Mystery seed packets showing up in Alaskans’ mailboxes

A researcher looks through a microscope with a monitor showing what she's looking at
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service botanists examine Amaranthus seeds sent to U.S. residents to determine if they harbor any plant pests or disease. (Photo courtesy USDA)

People all around the country say they’re getting mysterious packages in the mail from overseas. Inside are little packets of seeds they did not order or ask for.

Agriculture officials say they’re likely part of a world-wide, internet-related scam.

The seeds could also harm the environment.

Rhonda Guest said she wanted to do something nice for her church in Juneau. She was looking for seeds and bulbs that would bloom just in time for services next Easter. She found them on the discount shopping app Wish. All she had to do was pay the shipping.

Seed mailer
This mailing package originated from Malaysia and does not list seeds as its contents, it has been edited to protect Rhonda Guest’s privacy. (Photo courtesy Rhonda Guest)

She tracked the packages through Malaysia and China. But they didn’t arrive for a couple months.

“I was so excited,” Guest said.

That turned to confusion when Guest opened the packages that finally came in the mail She wasn’t even sure if they were what she ordered.

“Some of it is not identified. There’s no instructions from these seeds on how to do it, do it yourself,” Guest said.

“So, I thought that was weird. I mean, usually when you order something, it gives instructions on how to prepare it or whatever.”

Guest is not the only one. The state has received at least fifty such reports from all around Alaska already this summer.

Alaskans got seed packets from places like Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, Kazakhstan and China.

In some cases, the seeds mysteriously arrive in mailboxes unsolicited. Alaskans did not even order them.

SEE ALSO: ‘Move out of the way’: Bering Sea fishing boats report close encounter with Russian military

“These seeds are not coming in legally, because they’re not being sent as seeds, said David Schade, head of the Alaska Division of Agriculture. “They’re being sent as jewelry or some other kind of non-agricultural product.”

Schade said it’s happening all across the country.

There are a few theories as to why.

“What the USDA believes is a ‘brushing’ scheme to where these organizations send out packages that are not necessarily solicited, and then write reviews to boost their scores on the internet,” Schade said.

In other cases, people are ordering what they believe are U.S. seeds through Amazon or another retailer. But the seeds are actually arriving from overseas.

“We really don’t need unintended seeds growing and then invasives coming in,” Schade said “And there is, you know, a low probability of pathogens being on these seeds. So, we’re also having a look at is there any kind of disease or virus or bacteria, anything along those lines that might come in on the seeds.”

Schade said they’re investigating some seeds that were already planted in Southcentral Alaska. He said don’t plant the seeds and don’t even open the clear plastic baggies the seeds come in.

If you get a such a seed packet, then he asks Alaskans to call his office in Palmer at 745-7200, talk to his staff about how you got the seeds, and then prepare to send the seeds to them.

They’ll pass them off to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for an examination which will determine if they’re a weed or invasive species, or contain some disease.

Mystery seeds
Packet containing unidentified seeds. (Photo courtesy Rhonda Guest)

And that’s exactly what Rhonda Guest did.

Garden experts suggest ordering seeds directly from a reputable U.S. source and not through giant ecommerce websites like Wish or Amazon.

Matt Miller is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

Previous articleAlaska News Nightly: Thursday, August 27, 2020
Next articleIndigenous leaders are reimagining Vogue covers to get the word out on Tongass