Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard that bees are disappearing at an alarming rate. The decline of bees has gotten so bad in 2017, for the first time ever, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services listed a bee as an endangered species. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee, native to Illinois, will be extinct in a few years if action isn’t taken. The Chicago Zoological Society has been actively protecting pollinators for years at Brookfield Zoo and around our state, but in order to make a difference we need everyone’s help. But we don’t need just any help, we need the right kind of help.
Recently, major brands have jumped on the bee saving bandwagon. Cheerios’ missing bee campaign really made it clear that bees are essential to our food chain. General Mills, Cheerios’ parent company, even offered free wildflower seeds for people to plant hoping to enlarge bee habitats. The thought being the more flowers for bees, the more bees there will be. Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” General Mills was attempting to do a great thing, but the seeds provided by the company actually ended up being either invasive species or plants not native to the United States. It may not seem like a big deal, but the flowers those seeds produce can actually do more harm than good. Not only do they have the ability to crowd out our native plants, but our bees aren’t adapted to these flowers’ pollens making them virtually useless to the bees.
We can do better than this. We need to do better than this. The bees’ survival and our survival depend on it. There are easy ways to make sure you are planting seeds native to where we live in the Midwest. Check the Illinois Wildflower Database before heading to gardening centers to find plants that are native to Illinois. These plants are guaranteed to be healthy for our environment and all of the species that rely on them. Most gardening centers will offer native plant sections. If they don’t, ask them to carry a selection of native, pesticide free plants.
We are lucky to have many different habitats in Illinois. There is a virtual never ending choice of prairie, wetland, forest, and grassland flowering plants to choose from. You can also help support small businesses while helping bees, too. Grand Prairie Friends has curated a list of nurseries throughout Illinois that sell native, pesticide free plants to help you locate everything you’ll need to plant a bee friendly AND bee helpful garden.
Can you think of some other ways to help protect pollinators? Leave some suggestions below and help spread the pollinator love!