By David Clements
This past March the makers of Cheerios gave away 1.5 billion wildflower mixes. Not surprisingly one of these packages found its way to my own household.
The packages are part of a campaign by General Mills with the noble goal of helping struggling bee populations in North America. Planting more flowers via making more wildflower mixes provides more food for the bees — sounds simple, eh?
Unfortunately, simplifying things for the consumer can lead to serious mix-ups.
As an invasive species biologist, I had serious reservations about planting a wildflower mix that was part of a massive giveaway. Sure enough, some of the seeds found in these mixes raise red flags — e.g., the orange flag of the California poppy. Although not native to Canada, the plant now grows extensively on Vancouver Island roadsides.
There is a chance California poppy seeds planted from the Cheerios wildflower mixes might add to the infestation of non-native poppies in British Columbia.
There is also a larger issue at stake. The ideal species to plant for local pollinators are local plants, or at least plants well-suited for local conditions that won’t become invasive. So the simple solution is to plant local seed mixes.
These kinds of mix-ups with seed mixes are all too common these days. With seeds of all kinds readily available on the internet, it is hard to stem the tide of seeds being delivered to mailboxes everywhere.
There are federal and provincial regulations to prevent the movement of seeds of potentially harmful plants, but these regulations are very difficult to enforce.
One of the invasive plants that our federal government is trying to keep out of Canada is Paterson’s curse, a plant originating in the Mediterranean. In 2003, an infestation occurred in Oregon that was linked to a wildflower mix.
Although that site has been managed, another infestation still covers hundreds of hectares in Oregon. Paterson’s curse has also taken over large tracts of land of semi-arid land in Australia, displacing native plants and threatening livestock.
Many parts of B.C. and other parts of Canada have a similar climate, which is why the Canadian government has put Paterson’s curse on a watch list.
The concern about bees is real, and General Mills is doing some indisputably good things for bees, like setting aside large areas for pollinator habitat.
In fact, the idea they are spreading through seed packets of planting wildflowers for bees is a good one — it’s just best to plant flowers that are suited to do well in a particular area and not become invasive. Avoid mix-ups!
David Clements, Ph.D. is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Trinity Western University