A mystery is playing out inside mailboxes across Oklahoma and the rest of the United States.
Its protagonist is usually a plain envelope with Mandarin characters on the front addressed to someone who may or may not live at the address. Inside, recipients often find costume jewelry, along with seeds from unknown plants and flowers.
But it’s not the cheap jewelry that concerns Oklahoma Department of Agriculture officials. Instead, they are worried about the seeds and what might happen to the state’s agriculture and cattle industries if planted.
“They typically come from China,” said Morgan Vance, public information officer for the Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. “There are seeds, bulbs and roots in the packages. It’s not limited to a certain variety. There appear to be a lot of different types from flowers to herbs.”
Why the seeds are being sent isn’t fully known by officials. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating and believes the seeds are part of a “brushing” scam. In those instances, “a seller sends unsolicited items to someone and then posts positive customer reviews to boost sales,” according to some reports.
The USDA has said seeds analyzed so far included mustard, cabbage and morning glory along with herbs like sage and rosemary. The agency said those plants pose little threat to agriculture.
But that doesn’t mean those who receive unsolicited seeds should sew them. Vance said under no circumstances should recipients plant the seeds.
“They could be invasive, so to introduce that to soil or water sources, it could be harmful, especially for livestock,” she said. “If people have planted them, we ask that they dig them up as soon as possible. It may not seem like one plant can have an impact, but eventually they can.”
Pawnee man received packet
Bravehorse Spottedhorsechief received a packet of the seeds in his Pawnee mailbox recently. Like most, it wasn’t addressed to him. It was a plain package with mandarin written on the front. Inside was a piece of costume jewelry and seeds.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” Spottedhorsechief said. “I just thought it was just somebody else’s mail, so I just left it in the mailbox with the rest of the junk mail until I started seeing reports of other people getting the same packages.”
And he’s heard stories of people actually planting them, something he said is a bad idea.
“It just baffles me that people are actually planting them and they have no idea what they are or what they can do to our agriculture,” Spottedhorsechief said.
Still, reports around the country indicate some people are planting the mysterious seeds. In Booneville, Arkansas, a man named Doyle Crenshaw planted the seeds he received.
“We brought them down here and planted the seeds just to see what would happen, every two weeks I’d come by and put miracle grow on it and they just started growing like crazy,” Crenshaw told KFSM-TV in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
What to do if you receive mysterious seeds
While Oklahoma officials are asking people not to plant the seeds, Vance said those who receive them should not just throw them away.
“We’re asking people not to destroy them on their own because we want to know what they are,” Vance said.
She said the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture asks that recipients put the seeds in a resealable bag, write their name and hometown on the bag and either mail the bag to the department, or drop it off in person at 2800 N. Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City. They can also be dropped off at local county extension offices.