It makes sense that Honey Nut Cheerios, whose mascot is a bee, would want to raise awareness of the pollinators’ current plight, but their efforts have unfortunately backfired a bit.
General Mills, the owner of Cheerios, launched its Bring Back the Bees campaign earlier this month. It originally planned to give away 100 million seeds, which was then raised to 1.5 billion seeds after its popularity soared.
Things became controversial when Kathryn Turner, an evolutionary biologist and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado State University, tweeted that some of the seeds in the packets are considered invasive in certain regions.
Lifehacker reached out to Turner and she explained her concerns about the invasive species that were included.
“No plant is inherently ‘bad,’ but many species can and have caused a great deal of damage when they are introduced into locations outside of their native range,” she told Lifehacker. “Invasive species can out-compete the natives they encounter, they can take up all the space and use up all the resources, they can spread disease and cause other physical changes to their new homes.”
Of the plant seeds included in the packet, Chinese forget-me-nots and California poppies were Turner’s main concern since the forget-me-nots are listed as a noxious weed in Massachusetts and Connecticut and California poppy is considered an invasive and exotic pest in southeastern states.
The other seed types are Siberian wallflower, purple coneflower, single mix China aster, corn poppy, lance-leaved coreopsis, blue flax, baby blue-eyes, globe gilia, Indian blanket, plains coreopsis, tall white sweet alyssum, lavender hyssop, fleabane daisy, New England aster and bergamot.
Many of these flowers are not native to the U.S., meaning they might not be as beneficial to local bees as native plants would be.
Veseys Seeds, a Canadian seed company, supplied the seed packets and defended itself as backlash began to spread.
“In most locations, the seed mixture species will be non-native but not considered invasive,” John Barrett, director of sales, marketing and development for Veseys, told CBC News. “Some species within the mixture have the potential to become naturalized, adding to the biodiversity of the area without negatively impacting the environment.”
On Cheerios’ website it clarified that its seed selection is the same ones consumers would find on seed racks at major chains throughout the U.S.
The company also answered concerned commenters on Facebook saying, “The seed varieties in the mix are not considered invasive. FYI—The flower varieties within the Bee Friendlier Mix were selected for their flowers which produce nectar and pollen that are attractive to bees and other pollinators. The mixture contains annuals, biennials and perennials that produce flowers throughout the entire growing season (early, mid and late) in a wide range of colors. We hope that addresses your concern.”
General Mills isn’t the first organization to try to aid bees by providing more wildflower forage for bees, as Bayer also has its similar Feed a Bee program where it has set out to plant masses of forage across the country.
The best rule of thumb for these wildflower seed packets is to use common sense and research which varieties are safe for your region with the USDA plants database.