The Washington State Department of Agriculture joined officials in at least 27 states who are urging residents to report any unsolicited packages of seeds that seem to have been sent from China.
The seeds have bypassed regulations and customs by being mislabeled as jewelry and other items, said WSDA spokeswoman Karla Salp.
The WSDA recommended in a news release that residents double bag the seeds by placing the unopened seed bag in a Ziploc bag. Then throw them away.
Regulators are worried about introducing invasive plant species that could affect crops, while some plants poisonous to livestock could affect meat and dairy producers.
"It's not only invasive species that are a concern," Salp said. "A lot of people are saying, 'Oh it's just pumpkin seeds' or whatever kind of seed. The issue is really what kind of pests and plant diseases they could bring in."
As of Friday, the WSDA had received two reports of residents receiving seeds from China that they did not order. Since then, they've received "dozens if not hundreds" more, Salp said.
"We've had tons of reports," Salp said. "I couldn't tell you how many because they're coming in through all kinds of channels -- social media, emails."
The department has also received reports of people who purchased seeds from an online retailer thinking the seeds were from the United States, only to learn when the package arrived in the mail -- also usually listed as a different product on mailing labels -- that the seeds were from another country, according to a WSDA news release.
Police in Whitehouse, Ohio, reported the packages sent there seemed to be a part of a "brushing" fraud in a Facebook post from the department.
"A brushing scam," the post read, "is an exploit by a vendor used to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then submitting positive reviews on the receiver's behalf under the guise of a verified owner."
Salp said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will take the lead role unearthing the intention behind the unsolicited seeds while the WSDA will have a support role.
"It's not something to freak out over but it is still important," Salp said.
Far from agricultural fields, seeds in a garden or loosely discarded could still travel via wind and birds who eat them and defecate the seeds out far away, she said.
While it might be tempting to save a few cents to buy seeds from the cheapest possible places, Salp said it's important to buy from U.S. companies to guarantee seeds will not bring in pests or plant diseases that U.S. plants aren't equipped to fight off.
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