State agriculture officials issued a warning on Monday about unsolicited seeds being sent from China. People are advised not to open the packets nor to plant the unidentified seeds, if received.
The S.C. Department of Agriculture and the regulatory services division at Clemson University are investigating after residents reported receiving the unsolicited seeds.
Eva Moore, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Agriculture, said reported packages have included the words "China Post" on them in addition to other Chinese characters. China Post is the nation's mail service.
"A lot of them (the packages) say they contain jewelry, but then inside the package is some seeds," Moore said.
Derek Underwood, assistant commissioner at the state Department of Agriculture, said it is important to use caution when it comes to unidentified seeds. Any unidentified seed could be an invasive species with the potential to displace or destroy native plants and insects.
People who receive an unsolicited package are asked to retain the package, put it in a zip-top bag and do not dispose of it.
"We don't want them to throw the seed away because it could wind up in a landfill and actually germinate out in a landfill somewhere," said Dr. Steve Cole, director of Clemson's regulatory services unit.
People should keep the seeds stored at home until further guidance is released from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
Cole said he believes there have been reports all over the nation of people receiving these seeds, not just in states where agriculture is big.
Officials in North Carolina and Kentucky also issued warnings on Monday about unsolicited shipments of seeds that appear to be from China, the Associated Press reported.
"It's hard to know what it means right now," Cole said. "We're not sure if its some type of hoax or a scam."
North Carolina's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said the shipments to the state were likely the product of an international internet scam known as "brushing," in which foreign, third-party sellers use people's address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings, the AP reported.
The intentions behind the unsolicited mailings are unclear.
People who receive unsolicited seeds in the mail are asked to contact the USDA's Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance program at 1-800-877-3835 or SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov.
More information can be obtained from the S.C. Department of Agriculture’s Seed Lab at 803-737-9717 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry at email@example.com or a local Clemson Extension Office.