Friday, May 30, 2014

Poisoning Paradise: Are Your Plants Killing Bees?

From the bean of Green Bean.

UPDATE: I'm thrilled to report that the native plant grower, Suncrest Nursery - a big operation - has announced that it will stop the use of neonictinoids. They did this as a result of my communication with them, which I then shared with my native plant listserve.  The resulting hubbub on the listserve - with people calling and writing them, including nursery owners - convinced Suncrest to stop using neonic pesticides.  Never think you cannot make a difference! 

Last summer, Friends of the Earth came out of with a mind-blowing report that over 50% of "bee-friendly" plants sold by big box stores - Home Depot, Lowes, Orchard Supply Hardware - were pre-treated with neonics, systemic pesticides that stay in the plant and get into surrounding soil and water.  All of this is done with no label or other warning to those of us trying to attract, oh I don't know, bees with our newly purchased "bee-friendly" plants.  What the hey!?

As much as this report upset me and as much a I shared it on social media, I knew that I was okay.  I buy my plants at a small, independent nursery, thank you!  Moreover, many of my newer plants are natives.  So, all good, you know!

Until I visited that same local nursery last week.  Russian sage caught my eye.  Nowhere near native but my dad had some and it was blooming like crazy when nothing else was.  Score one - or two - for the pollinators because I grabbed not one, but two plants.

Then I headed to the native plant section.  I was so happy to see how it has grown over the years.  It now takes up several tables.  Winning!!  I really didn't need anything but I did spy a ceanothus and there is that bare spot and I have been wanting to add another one so, okay, twist my arm.  I buy the native plant as well.

I chat it up with the woman at the register, load my plants in the car and head home.  And then it hits me.

Might these plants be pre-treated with bee-killing plants?  These very plants which I am planting to attract bees, native pollinators, birds.  Might I be poisoning them?  Even though I bought them from locally owned nursery?

I don't even think about the native plant.  I mean seriously.  What native plant nursery would use such products.  It's like, totally antithetical to native plants.  Yeah?

The grower for the Russian Sage, though, is clearly printed on the pots.  Monrovia.  I start to hyperventilate - kind of.  I look them up on the Internet.  Nothing re Monrovia and neonicotinoids.  Nothing re Monrovia and neonics.  Finally, I hit on Monrovia and pesticides.  But wouldn't you know it?  They are a happy, green nursery, see.  I mean, they got this Sustainability Certificate so, like, awesome.  My Russian sages and I are all good.

Just to be safe, though, I send them an email and tuck the plants in an out of the way spot.  A week later, Monrovia has not responded so I send another email.

In the meantime, I have planted my native plant.  Watered it.  Felt great about it.  Then I start to wonder.  Would a native plant nursery pre-treat their plants with bee-killing pesticides too?  So I shoot that grower an email asking.

On the same day, I get my answer from both Monrovia and the native plant grower.  A big ole YES to both!  Both nurseries use neonic pesticides sometimes.  Monrovia doesn't think it is a problem because, the science is, like, unsettled.  Plus, mites are bad.  The native plant nursery wishes they didn't use neonictinoids but they are mindful of the issue.  Mindful, see?  Like yoga.

Except I am not feeling the mindfulness now.  I yank the ceanothus out of the ground.  I return my plants back to the nursery with a print out of the Friends of the Earth retail letter and the emails from the two growers.  Then, I share the native plant nursery's emailed response with my local Native Plant group.  Several members are landscapers and a couple own nurseries that stock plants from this grower.  They all get on the phone to their contacts at the grower, delving into the insecticide issue and expressing their displeasure.  Guess what!?  The native plant nursery responds and is working with group members on alternatives.  The Native Plant list is now abuzz with discussion on protecting bees, eliminating pesticides and calling out growers who use systemic pesticides.


ALL plants sold at ANY nursery - unless certified organic or otherwise labeled that untreated - may be poisoning your backyard paradise.  Even if you buy them at your favorite independent, locally owned nursery.

When buying plants ask questions.  Contact the grower (often nurseries are unaware of the issue but growers know if they use neonics or not).  Voice your disapproval.  Seek out neonic-free plants (here and here).  Grow from untreated seed or propagate from a friend.  Buy organic (which is hard to find beyond edibles).  Return treated plants.

Make some noise and save some pollinators!

Feel free to let Monrovia know how you feel by contacting them here.   To see actual responses from the Monrovia nursery -cut and pasted onto a post in my blog because I'm so not a techy, please see here.


Christy said...

Wow, native plants too? Really? When they are green certified? Sheesh. Good for you to seek answers.

Green Bean said...

Thanks, Christy! I'm so happy to update this post to report that the native plant nursery has discontinued its use of neonics based on my contact with them and an ensuing discussion/slew of complains from my native plant yahoo group. Turns out we can have an impact! :)

Brenna said...

What a great update! It only takes one person to make a difference. Our local nursery sells Monrovia as well, so I know I will steer clear of them, but it is unfortunate how vigilant consumers have to be. Perhaps that is the next labeling campaign?

Mary said...

AWESOME! That's all it takes sometimes is to A) care an B) act. Well done. I'm tweeting your story.

Anne said...

Great work! Because you spoke up, sounds like you're educating the nursery pros that should be asking these questions before they buy from wholesalers. You're encouraging me to ask more questions before buying any plants.

Betsy Escandon said...

I just love a happy ending. Good news must be shared! Such a great story.

Green Bean said...

@Brenna: I think Monrovia is pretty huge and I hope that we can spread the word that they use neonics. Really, this should be the next labeling campaign!

@Mary: Thank you for sharing!! Sometimes, it is really hard to make a difference but I hope my story demonstrates that sometimes all you have to do is your A & B.

@Anne: Yes, please do ask questions and share! :)

Down East Beelady said...

I've been trying to impress this upon my fellow beekeepers and gardeners in this area. It's frightening how many do use neonics or state that should it become necessary, they will use neonics! Lowe's used to make a fortune off of me. . .bought plants on a weekly basis. . .but no more! Right now, the only one I'm trusting is my local nursery, Edgewater Gardens. Owner Robin is aware of the neonic problem and has bees on the nursery property! Also, White Flower Farm was adamant that they do not use neonics. Surprisingly, American Meadows, the folks who work with DOT to flower the roadside of major roadways, admits to using when necessary! I used to buy seeds for my meadow from them, but you can forget that. My research goes on to find safe flowers for my sweet honeybees.

Heather said...

So, so, so awesome!!! This beekeeper thanks you. :)

Green Bean said...

@Down East Beelady: Thank you for the comment and for all of your efforts. After my story, I really do believe that we can make a difference by asking questions and sharing information. I'm sure your efforts have raised awareness amongst your fellow beekeepers and gardeners. Way to go!

@Heather : Lol, thank you. I always say, when I stand and look at my buzzing garden, you are welcome beekeepers. ;-)

Turning the Clock Back said...

that is very encouraging! I will definitely talk to our local nursery and see what their current policy is!

canyoncolor said...

I just wanted to thank you for the information. I don't even remember how I found your blog but I immediately identified with it. Your experience mirrored my own: I was recently strolling through the nursery at Home Depot and spotted ceanothus, which I recognized as a native. I grabbed three, removed them from their Monrovia pots and put them in the ground.

A couple weeks later, after reading your blog post, I pulled them out of the ground and returned them to their Monrovia pots and Home Depot.

From there, I drove to a local nursery (I'm in southern Orange County); I remembered that they had entire tables of natives. Ugh. Monrovia pots everywhere. A nursery employee approached me and I told her that I was looking for natives that hadn't been treated with neonicotinoids. Granted I botched the pronunciation, but she didn't seem to recognize what I was talking about. "Do you mean nematodes?" She tried to be helpful, but the experience was disconcerting. I ended up buying a few plants in Suncrest pots to replace the ones I removed.

On my way home, I noticed that city landscapers had positioned new plants in pots for planting in a thoroughfare meridian. Monrovia pots...

Got me thinking that a lot of us in my region are replacing lawns with drought-tolerant plants thinking we're doing the right thing for the environment; it may be an overstatement to suggest that the bees may have been better off before, but it got me wondering about the irony.

Green Bean said...

@canyoncolor - Thank you for your comment. It is so frustrating that we are trying to do the right thing and still poisoning bees!! I have been buying Suncrest and from local native plant sales. In addition, I have been starting my own plants from seeds (which only works in places where I'm willing to wait for the plants to grow in size). Larner Seeds is great but you also have Theodore Payne in your neck of the woods. Oh, Annie's Annuals is supposed to be safe and ships!

I do believe awareness is increasing. My conservative father told me about neonicotinoids and their impact on bees just the other day. Let's keep sharing our stories to educate others - even nursery employees who think we are avoiding nematodes! ;-)

Teddy John said...

I will now shop at eco-green-organic type places. We need to enact change NOW and be mindful of how we treat and interact with our environment. Star Nursery is bad too? Will have to ask and find out.


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