When Robin Stanicki received a small package in the mail weeks ago, she thought it was the watch band she ordered online that was coming from Denmark. But when she opened it she instead found 15 seeds unlike any she had seen before. She had not ordered seeds.
The Belfast resident said Tuesday that the seeds arrived the first week of June. The padded envelope they arrived in was marked with Chinese characters and had a return address in The Netherlands.
“There was this three-inch-by-three-inch clear cellophane package [inside the envelope] with what looked like nuts in it,” Stanicki said. “We looked at the envelope and the customs label said it was handmade flowers from The Netherlands.”
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on Tuesday issued a warning advising anyone who received seeds from an unknown source 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.
Stanicki posted a photo of the seeds on the You Know You Love Belfast If… Facebook page asking if anyone knew what they could be. The most popular opinion seemed to be some sort of orchid seeds and several people encouraged Stanicki to plant them to see what came up.
According to Gary Fish, state horticulturist with DAFC, that would have been a huge mistake, as seeds from unknown origins could carry diseases or be invasive species harmful to the Maine environment.
“I never did plant them,” Stanicki said. “Time went on and then we started seeing news stories of similar stories of other people around the country getting mysterious seeds.”
Agriculture officials suspect the mass mailings may be part of a marketing scheme aimed at bolstering sales numbers for whatever company is behind sending the packages.
Stanicki said she has never ordered seeds online, but did say she ordered live plants from a domestic nursery through Amazon about two years ago.
As of Tuesday afternoon DAFC had logged 25 reports of the suspicious seeds and Maine joins 30 other states across the country that are reporting the packages of seeds sent in white envelopes displaying Chinese lettering and the words “China Post.”
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 country.
Stanicki plans to report her seeds to DAFC and hopes someone there or with the USDA can at least solve the mystery of what they are, if not where they originally came from.
“I’m really curious how someone got my address,” she said. “And what these seeds really are. I was kind of hoping they really were magic beans.”
Contact DACF to report seeds by calling 207-287-3200 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact the USDA office in Hermon at 207-848-0008.