Cheerios #BringBackTheBees: Cheerios' Wildflowers May Be Invasive In Some Areas

Over the past several days, Cheerios' #BringBackTheBees campaign has sought to help restore bee populations, which continue to decline for a number of reasons. To this end, the company has been sending out wildflower seed packets as freebies. However, there have been some concerns that it might not be a good idea to plant these Cheerios wildflowers, depending on where you live in the United States.

As part of its current initiative, Cheerios has made sure to let consumers know that the world's bee populations are on the decline, with no clear signs of recovery so far. And these efforts, according to Brand Channel, have included the removal of the mascot Buzz the Bee from boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios in North America. This was explained in a company statement that further underscored the seriousness of the Cheerios #BringBackTheBees campaign.

"Buzz is missing because there's something serious going on with the world's bees. Bee populations everywhere have been declining at an alarming rate, and that includes honeybees like Buzz."
The heart of the campaign, however, is Cheerios sending wildflower seed packets – 100 million of them, courtesy of Veseys Seeds – free of charge to customers. The brand hopes that consumers will plant the seeds and share pictures of the wildflowers that grow on social media.
The campaign, according to Brand Channel, had first started in Canada in 2016, but it's only been this year that it has spread out to the rest of North America. The original Cheerios #BringBackTheBees initiative in Canada was a success, with 100 million wildflower seeds distributed, but with the U.S. now included in the 2017 campaign, the first week has reportedly seen a whopping 1.5 billion seeds distributed across Canada and the United States.

However, Lifehacker pointed out in a report over the weekend that there are several seeds Cheerios included in its wildflower packets that represent invasive species in some parts of North America. For example, the California poppy is alright, for obvious reasons, to plant in California, but is listed as an invasive species in the southeastern parts of the United States. Forget-me-nots, in addition, are listed as noxious weeds in the New England region, specifically in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Lifehacker added that many other wildflowers on Cheerios' list are "not native to anywhere in the U.S.," which means they might not be too conducive to North American bee population growth after all.

Lifehacker spoke to ecologist Kathryn Turner, an invasive plant specialist who was among those who weren't fully onboard the Cheerios #BringBackTheBees initiative. Noting the importance of context, she warned that there are many wildflower species that could cause a lot of damage if planted outside their native range.
"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, all of which can have detrimental effects on native species, and on humans. It doesn't happen with every plant and in every location, and scientists (like me!) are working now to figure out why that is, how to predict what will cause a problem, how to manage or prevent invasions."
As an alternative, Lifehacker suggested that consumers use Xerces' bespoke seed mixes – the publication pointed out that Cheerios tied up with the former company, but didn't use its "locally customized, ecologically friendly" mixes. Xerces, in addition, offers regional gardening guides that offer ideas and suggestions for people who want to take the DIY route when planting their own wildflower seeds.

For the most part, Cheerios' #BringBackTheBees has won praise from conservationists and other groups, as the brand's heart appears to be in the right place. But, as Lifehacker warned, a good number of the wildflower seeds, once planted, "might well spark a new invasion," or worsen the effects of weeds in certain parts of North America.

[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]