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Mystery seeds from China were mostly harmless

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The unsolicited, unlabeled seeds that hundreds of Iowans have received from China in recent weeks do not appear to be part of a scheme to spread invasive plants.

“Most of the species are common in the United States,” said Osama El-Lissy, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Of the more than 900 seed packages the department had examined last week, there was one noxious weed identified — a parasitic vine called a dodder.

El-Lissy said there was also water spinach seed, which is not native to the United States, and that another seed contained an unspecified insect larva.

“Other than that we have not found anything alarming,” he said.

More than 550 Iowans have reported receiving the unsolicited seeds, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

“The deliveries seem to have slowed significantly at this point,” she said Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said the suspicious seed mailings might be part of a scam in which a foreign business artificially boosts its online credibility by appearing to sell a large amount of orders and falsifying reviews for those orders.

People across the country received the mailings, along with residents of Australia, Canada and Europe.

El-Lissy said China has aided the investigation into the mailings and has helped identify the businesses involved. The seeds were often sent in small, white packages with a label that claimed they contained jewelry.

U.S. residents are advised not to open, plant or destroy unsolicited seed packets. Instead, they can go online to to report receiving seeds and to find an address to send them to federal officials for evaluation.

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