The Truth Behind the Amazon Mystery Seeds

Why did so many Americans receive strange packages they didn’t think they’d ordered?


By Chris Heath, The Atlantic

Jul 15, 2021


Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, sat atop his stallion Smokey and faced the camera. It was Saturday, August 1, 2020. Miller had a message to share.


“Good morning, patriots,” Miller began, raising the coiled lasso in his right hand by way of greeting. “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of all these surprises coming out of China. First it was the Chinese virus, then we had the murder hornets, then we had to close the embassy in Houston because of espionage … Now we’ve got all these mystery seeds coming in in the mail.”


It was the seeds that Miller wanted to speak about. By then, news of the seeds had been circulating for several days. Packets were turning up at homes across the United States; residents of every state would eventually report receiving them. Their address labels and Customs declarations indicated that they had been sent from China. The contents were usually described as an item of jewelry—something like “rose stud earrings”—but inside would be a small packet of unidentified seeds. There was no evident reason why particular people were receiving particular seeds, or why people were receiving seeds at all.


Miller advised anyone who received one of these packages to handle it with extreme care. “Treat them like they’re radioactive,” he said. As Smokey flicked his tail, the commissioner laid out what he considered to be the worst-case scenario: “My greatest fear is that someone will open these packages up—open these seeds up—and be infected with a new virus of some kind.” If you found yourself in possession of such a package, Miller said, you should email him immediately, and he would send an inspector to pick it up.


“You don’t want to cry wolf unless there’s a wolf at the door,” Miller told me when I called recently, “but I have a $100 billion industry here just in Texas to protect.” In the face of something so odd, Miller’s instincts arced toward suspicion.


“We didn’t know what in the world was going on,” he said...