No, You Should Not Plant Any Mystery Seeds You Get in the Mail

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Photo: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services/Twitter

Mystery seeds are always bad news. If you have ever read a single fairy tale, you already know this to be true. But a scourge of unmarked seed packets flooding mailboxes in the D.C. area begets repeating the message: do NOT plant any mysterious seeds you receive in the mail, lest you end up with an invasive species, giant beanstalk, or glowing product review written in your name.


DCist reports that several thousand people in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. say they’ve received packets of seeds that seem to be coming from China. Allison Parrell, who lives in Falls Church, Virginia, got a packet:

“I immediately thought to myself, what is this?” The writing on the package was all Asian characters — except for two words in English: “stud earrings.”

“The last stud earrings I ordered were a couple years ago,” says Parrell. But she thought maybe it was mislabeled. “Of course I opened it.”

Inside was another envelope, filled with seeds: “They were small, unlike any seeds I’ve seen. I’m a gardener, so I feel like I’ve seen quite a few seeds.” The seeds were blondish in color and teardrop shaped.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has warned residents not to plant the seeds, and is asking anyone who received them to report them to authorities.

Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops,” the VDACS said in a statement last week. “Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.”

Historical documents suggest invasive species and other weird things strangers give you can, in fact, blow up planets, wreak havoc in musicals, make stop-motion bugs human-sized, and unleash all sorts of crazy shit. Though, as U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson Cecilia Sequeira told DCist, the seeds are probably less an attempt at planetary domination and more a “brushing scam,”:

According to the Better Business Bureau, brushing scams are used by third-party sellers, often based abroad. First, the seller sends an unsolicited product. “They then post a fake, positive review to improve their products’ ratings, which means more sales for them,” according to a recent post on the bureau’s website, warning of such scams on Amazon. “The payoff is highly profitable from their perspective.”


So, don’t plant the seeds—not because you’ll inadvertently grow a beanstalk leading to Giant Town, but because you might end up having an Amazon review under your name, and that’s embarrassing.



Tangentially related: I’m a highly educated and trained healthcare worker and educator. I didn’t receive mystery seeds, but I did have some carrots start growing in my garden that I didn’t plant. “Wow!” I thought to myself, “volunteer carrots!” One day while my then-boyfriend was at work, I harvested some veg from the garden to make a salad and pulled up a carrot. But it didn’t look like a carrot, it looked kind of like a radish or a rutabaga — which I also did not plant and have never grown. I start cutting up this mystery root vegetable and it had a very particular smell. “Hmmm... maybe I should google image search this.”

It was poison hemlock.

The internet kindly told my idiot ass that poison hemlock kills dozens of people a year, after consumption due to plant misidentification because it is in the same family as wild carrot and queen anne’s lace. So, like me, other people see the fluffy fronds growing in their gardens and think, like me, “Cool! Bonus carrots!” They show up in gardens thanks to seeds deposited by bird poops.

I was seconds away from eating this thing. My partner would have come home to my dead body and, because I watch too many horror films, I can only expect he would have been questioned for my murder-by-poisoning.

Here’s what poison hemlock does to one’s body:

“All parts of poison-hemlock can kill humans and animals, even when it is dried. ... Toxic alkaloids in poison-hemlock affect the nervous system, causing such symptoms as a burning sensation in the mouth, nausea, vomiting, confusion, rapid heartbeat, seizures, and paralysis. Death is by respiratory paralysis.”

TLDR: Don’t eat things you can’t identify, and don’t plant seeds sent to you by strangers!