Seeds are wondrous things. As metaphors they sprout hope in our hearts. They blossom as awareness in our consciousness. In the physical world they are miraculously engineered packages of DNA. They survive fire, drought, and floods. They float. They fly. They transport life’s diversity through time and space.
The seed of a date palm more than two thousand years old was dug from King Herod’s palace and planted. It grew. They named it Methuselah.
Seeds are the love-child of pollinators and flowering plants. Entomophily; pollination by insects. Entomo; insect. Phile; love.
Picture the orchid; it’s beautiful intricacies co-evolved with pollinators, matching form and function in a reproductive cross-species tango. A rapture of perfume and pollen, a petal stroked, nectar stoked love-fest that produces fruit and seed, butterflies and bees.
My mother in-law is on her way over with seeds for me. She is bringing cup plant and partridge pea seeds. Cup plants are stately North American perennials with a gleeful profusion of sunflower-like blooms adored by bees and butterflies. Their clasped leaves hold rainfall, hence their name. The great stalks are home to native bees, their seeds are feasted upon by finches. The partridge pea is a nectar rich native annual with bright yellow pea-like flowers, and feathery foliage.
In exchange, I have wild indigo seeds for her. These large pods rattle enticingly, and are often used in dried arrangements. Bumblebees find indigo irresistible. On one bumblebee survey I found bumbles of three different species, all deep in joyous oblivion inside indigo blossoms, ignoring every other flowering plant in the meadow.
Seed exchanges like this have gone on for as long as humanity has cultured plants. Saving seeds, or seed banking, is the practice of storing seeds, roots and tubers from year to year. For millennia, seed banking has been the traditional way of maintaining our farms and gardens.
That’s the fun part of seeds. In the past five decades we have shifted from seed banking to seed buying. Here comes the frightening part; most people don’t know that the majority of the plants and seeds they buy are now treated with pesticides; invisible, unlabeled, and toxic to our pollinators.
Meet the scary family of systemic pesticides called Neonicotinoids.
Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are a class of neural toxins based on nicotine. Their names float through my mind late at night, like a poison mantra. They are Acetamidprid, Clothianiadin, Dinotefuran, Imidacloprid, Thiamethoxam…Fipronil.
- Neonics are systemic. A treated seed or plant expresses the toxin in its roots, stem , leaves, flowers, nectar , pollen, seed, and fruit. It becomes a poison factory.
- Neonics are nerve toxins. In low doses they impair bees’ reproduction, immune systems, ability to forage, and return to the hive. Lost Bees are soon dead bees.
- In higher doses they are simply lethal.
- They are persistent. They stay in plants tissues for multiple seasons. They persist in soil, some for as much as 19 years, and possibly longer.
- Most plants and seeds sold today are treated with neonicitinoids; it is the agricultural and nursery standard.
- 94% of our corn crop in 2012 was pre treated with neonicotinoids .
- 51% of plants sampled last summer from Lowes and Home Depot were contaminated with neonics . Many were toxic enough to kill a bee in one visit… And they were labeled “Bee Friendly”.
- It’s not just the bees; neonics affect soil and aquatic animals, small mammals, and birds. A single kernel of treated corn is enough to kill a songbird.
Neonicotinoids are now the world’s most widely used pesticide. A recent meta analysis of over 800 scientific studies shows neonicotinoid pesticides to be 5000 to 10,000 times more toxic than DDT. Between 75 and 95% of the worlds flowering plants need pollinators to produce seed or fruit. It’s not just one third of our food, this critical situation affects virtually everything alive, the seeds of life.
“Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution.”
Norman Vincent Peale
What to do? Here are easy steps you can take to make a pollinator friendly environment in your own backyard, city, state, and beyond:
- Go wild, gather seeds from fields and meadows! Get neighborly, host seed swaps, share perennials!
- Scatter seed bombs, it’s an easy way to plant with minimal soil preparation. Balls of clay, compost, and wildflower seeds, they are available through growtherainbow.com, which also has DIY instructions. Use organic or neonic free seeds, of course.
- Plant lots of neonic free flowers and native plants.
- Ask before you buy; are they neonic free? If they don’t know, don’t buy! Your choices put pressure on nurseries to change their buying practices.
- Welcome diversity in your lawn; clover, dandelions, violets, and creeping charlie are bees’ food.
- Don’t forget our monarchs! Keep a stand of milkweed just for these threatened and iconic pollinators.
- Use nontoxic alternatives to pesticides and fungicides.
- Leave areas in your yard wild and untilled as nesting space for wild bees.
- Keep piles of undisturbed wood sticks and plant stalks in an out of the way corner; solitary bees use these to nest too.
- Add stones to a birdbath to save thirsty bees from drowning.
- Wild bee houses are fun projects for the whole family.
- Continue to educate yourself about our pollinators and the issues affecting them.
- Share your knowledge with friends, family, neighbors , and coworkers
- Go to city hall, write your council people, and legislators.
- Tell them you want a bee safe city, and a bee safe state, with lots of pollinator safe forage and protection from pesticides. Eugene OR, Spokane WA, Shorewood MN, and Seattle WA did it. We can too!
- Ask your candidate to support H.R 2692, the Saving America’s Pollinator act!
- Call toll free 1-855-686-6927 and ask for your representative. This bill would protect bees by requiring the EPA to suspend four of the pesticides belonging to the class of neonicotinoids until their safety can be determined.
- Organic practices support our pollinators year round. Organic apples are more expensive than conventional ones are now, but they’re a whole lot cheaper than hand pollinated fruit will be in the future.
Be brave! It’s urgent. It’s late. But it’s not too late. Plant hope. Grow the Rainbow!