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What (not) to do if you receive weird seed packages from China

Not earrings. Did not order. Wtf.

Not earrings. Did not order. Wtf. Courtesy Minnesota Department of Agriculture

As you’re well aware, many absurd and surprising things can legally be sent through the mail. Agricultural products like seeds, however, are among the more heavily restricted items – especially when sent overseas.

Enter: Weird, inexplicable packages that have begun landing on Minnesotans’ doorsteps. Customs labels often describe their contents as jewelry or gardening supplies – never as seeds. In every instance, they’re originating from China and individuals on the receiving end say they didn't order… anything at all.

Representatives from Minnesota Department of Agriculture told City Pages this is, in keeping with the year, unprecedented.

“Nothing like this has been reported before.” 

The MDA says that other state agriculture departments – including Louisiana, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, where residents have also received unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to come from China – first started receiving reports of these shipments on Friday, July 24. “We received reports over [this past] weekend,” they say.

That discomfort you’re feeling? It might have to do with how no one knows what the point of this is. “We’re uncertain what these seeds may be and why people are receiving these unsolicited packages,” explained Denise Thiede, MDA’s seed unit supervisor. “Until we know more, we encourage people to contact us because of the risk they may pose to Minnesota agriculture and our natural landscapes.”

If you, reader, receive one of these mystery shipments, the MDA asks that you do the following:

  • 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. Registered seed technologists (!) and certified seed analysts (!!) will take a crack at visually identifying the little guys. “If visual identification is not possible,” the MDA told us, “there are also genetic testing options that can be used as an alternative. While we have experts on staff at the MDA that are capable of identifying seeds, we have been asked to ship the packages to the USDA for identification and destruction.”

In the meantime, if you find yourself in this limbo – having received a package you didn’t order, waiting for officials to coordinate shipping to the MDA Seed program – what’s the best place to put a package of mystery seeds for safe keeping? “Store the package of seeds at room temperature until it is shipped,” says the MDA.

You heard The Literal Man: Though we were all thinking it, do not plant them at the feet of Blue Earth's Jolly Green Giant, just to see if… yunno… maybe…