Saving Bees

and Pollinators

Lawns are shaved by the blades of mowers, while bees and butterflies go hungry. A simple way to help honey bees is to spare the dandelions. The most common species of dandelion is Taraxacum officinale. With its light seeds it is successful at propagating itself and is common in disturbed areas, including lawns where they are often demonised as persistent weeds. Defenders of manicured lawns suggest destructive methods to kill and eliminate dandelions. Among them are mowing, digging, smothering, scalding, salting and burning. This is environmental suicide. A lawn which excludes all other plant life is a barren space, devoid of biodiversity. Chemicals used to control perceived weeds wipe out surrounding biodiversity, while the existence of dandelions encourages it. A patch of dandelions can support bees, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and many other insects as they crawl and fly among the flowers. These in turn attract birds.
          Dandelions and buttercups, often perceived as weeds, are important providers of nectar and pollen early in the year. Dandelions are recommended as a valuable plant by agricultural scientists and farmer support groups. They are one of the first flowers available for bees when they awake from hibernation and can save bees from starvation at this crucial time by giving them an early season boost. It is one of the first flowers we see in spring and the last in autumn. Although some crops might continue through wind pollination. people would face the loss of much of their abundant choice of food if pollinators, such as bees, were wiped out. The colony-building efforts of native pollinators is aided by the dandelion which provides a ready source of early pollen. In turn these bees and their offspring pollinate our food crops.
          Some 4,000 of Europe’s vegetable varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees. As well as pollinating our food crops dandelions are a nutritious food for humans, being edible and nutritional, more nutritious than spinach. They contain high levels of vitamin A, potassium, and beta carotene, with notable amounts of vitamins C and D, iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. The leaves, roots, and flower heads can be eaten in a variety of fresh and cooked dishes. The juice of the plant's root is still used by herbalists to treat diabetes and is also prescribed as a mild laxative. Simple tinctures of dandelions were used for centuries as a blood builder.
          “Homelessness” is a threat to bees, as the intensification of farming wipes out their natural habitats. Hunger is another. I was enamoured on an April afternoon as I walked the last mile to my suburban home and became aware of the presence of dandelions. There were dandelions in cracks along the street. They speckled the parks. They found refuge in the borders of some gardens and in others they had free-range of the whole garden. Bee-food, I chuckled to myself. Let’s leave more dandelions in the cracks. Do not scorn the dandelion-filled garden which in the mind of the tamed gardener is a blemish in the neighbourhood. In the long term they are friends, not foes.

Fran Brady
Eco-Quaker Ireland Representative on Eco-Congregation Ireland