The Hidden Dangers of Seed Bombs

If you follow my personal blogs, you will occasionally see me warning people about seed bombs. With the trend becoming more and more popular, it is very important that we keep a few things in mind before buying into the trend.

Items that have become known as Seed Bombs in the recent years are generally made from biodegradable or natural materials, and contain seeds and organic fertilizers with an emphasis on food crops, flowering plants, and herbs. The point of them is to provide a quick-start plant growth kit that one can just throw into a field and walk away from. Predominantly they are used for an action known as “Guerrilla Gardening”, an eco-politically driven form of activism. As activism, Guerilla Gardening is a direct action against Lawn Culture, Land Neglect, and other issues- most of which concerns what is considered wasted land that could otherwise by put to good ecological or other use

As the Vahallla Movement says about one particular company:

Seed bombs began as a fun and friendly tactic for greening abandoned lots in urban spaces. “Guerrilla gardeners” throw balls of seeds and fertilizer into fenced-off spaces that are otherwise neglected, such as brownfields or land in zoning limbo.

Now, a California company is using seed bombs as a strategy to fight the disappearance of bees. [Founders] started [Company] with the aim of spreading bee-friendly wildflowers in neighborhoods around the country.

Overall, the idea is a novel one that has the potential to do a lot of good,  especially with the problems our pollinators face. There are a few issues with it, however.

Firstly is that, despite its positive potential, Guerrilla Gardening itself is most often illegal. Technically speaking, individuals do not have legal rights to use the land. With the exception of the rare chance someone thinks you may be littering, Seed Bombing itself might not get you in too much trouble… But there are still concerns about legalities depending on the methodology and how much of a fight the land owner decides to put up if you are caught; there is still a large chance that individuals who participate in the more extreme forms of Guerrilla Gardening can face fines, trespassing charges, and other legal issues.

More important than the legal issues, however, is that Seed Bombs are not always as “fun and friendly” as they are marketed as. In fact, they have a chance to be incredibly damaging to the ecosystems they’re introduced to- something which is the exact opposite of its intent. To understand how, though, you have to understand that no plant is created equal. Regardless of where you are in the world, each region; each state; each local area… Every ounce of land existing on this planet, really, has three important classifications of plants which exist within it: Native, Nativized or Naturalized, and Invasive.

Native indicates that a plant evolved in that region on its own; it wasn’t introduced there by others, but grows there naturally. Because of this, Native Flora often has an often incomparable and unique ecological relationship with the native Fauna; they are important food sources for local insects and animals (and sometimes the only food source at all for particular species). And because they are already a part of that specific environment in the first place, they have the lowest negative ecological impact on the ecosystem of that area.

Nativized or Naturalized, on the other hand, indicates that a plant does not naturally grow in an area and was introduced to it. Unlike Invasive plants, though, Naturalized plants are not considered detrimental to the local ecosystems. This is because they fit within the existing ecological structure instead of competing against and disrupting it. And like with Native plants, sometimes Naturalized species also become important sources for local fauna as well.

Invasive, however, means that the plant was introduced to an environment and has largely had a negative impact on the ecosystem- usually by out competing, taking over, and ultimately destroying the Naturalized and Native plants within the area.

So what does this have to do with Seed Bombs? It concerns the seeds which are found in them and whether or not they are the right seeds for the environment in which they are being planted. Unfortunately, there is very little emphasis that is placed on whether or not the plants contained in Seed Bombs are safe for local environments.

While some larger manufacturers of Seed Bombs may list the plants they contain seeds for and produce packages which are tailored to certain regions, not all manufacturers do this even on the large scale manufacturing level. And even when they do, I have found that even then many of them are not actually formulated correctly for the specific environments they claim to encompass.

Take the company Seedle, for instance. While they provide regionally specific seed packages, my own state of Oklahoma is incorrectly listed regionally; according to their company, Oklahoma is included in the Southwest regional designation. The problem, however, is that only the western portion of our state (roughly the  vertical strip of land West of Enid) actually shares related fauna with the Southwestern region- and that western portion really only accounts for (give or take) 10% of our state’s total land. More correctly, I would need to buy either the Midwestern of Southeastern package for my area, because the State of Oklahoma as a whole shares the majority of it’s native flora and fauna with Kansas and Texas… Not Arizona and New Mexico.

This problem doesn’t only present itself with larger manufacturers, however. Smaller manufacturers (such as shops on Etsy) may not always list the plants, either. And with the increased emphasis on Seed Bomb DIY, even fewer of those guides place any emphasis on making sure to include native or naturalized plants- and being careful not to include invasive ones.

While the problem with manufacturers incorrectly listing regions (or not making regionally specific blends at all) is an issue? Civilian sector Seed Bombs often poses a far larger problem; it’s easier for a larger manufacturer like Seedles to consult with Ecologists, Biologists, and Conservationists in order to create properly formatted seed blend. It’s also far easier for them to steer someone towards a regionally specific blend if they sell one… But small manufacturers like those on Etsy, and DIY’ers, are usually civilians- and the average civilian is not often well educated on the need to be careful about what we plant and the reasons why. Worse, they often don’t know that there is even a need to be educated about it in the first place… And while that lack of education is certainly no fault of their own, this knowledge is still incredibly important.

Invasive plants, specifically, can very easily destroy entire ecosystems; the environmental problems they can cause can rang from a dwindle in local plant populations, to the complete loss of local species. And if the plants go, the fauna that relies on them go with- damaging entire ecosystems which are interconnected and interdependent on these different facets. One only has to look at the Kudzu Vine slowly taking over some States in the American South in order to see the havoc they can wreak under just the right circumstances. And while it’s unlikely that most plants will be as invasive as the Kudzu, even smaller invasions can cause problems… But not all plants are invasive to every region. A plant’s status can change from region to region, and hardly any plant will have the same status or impact in different environments.

Thus comes the potential for a destructive nature: If a Seed Bomb contains plants which are known to be invasive to an area, and those are introduced via well-meaning Seed Bomb scattering by uneducated civilians, it can wreak havoc on a local ecosystem. That havoc could be small and easily manageable, or it could be disastrous depending several factors, and it’s incredibly hard to know which direction it could go.

Ensuring that our Seed Bombs contain safe plants is not the only thing, though. Another is the issue of Commercial Plant Stock vs Native Plant Stock; your standard Commercial plant stock is also just not going to cut it. Commercial plant stock has a much smaller ecological impact compared to those wild plants that are genuinely native to the area and evolved alongside the local fauna- even if those plants are considered naturalized to your area, not invasive, and are cheaper for you to obtain.

More than that, is microfocusing and which areas of our ecosystems we are microfocusing on; taking the Bee-specific seed bombs we spoke about earlier concerning The Valhalla Movement, and using it as an example: Commercial products and guides tend to microfocus on the Honey Bee, but they are only a small cog in a greater machine; there are 20,000 known species of Bee- not all of which are found in every area, and not all of which pollinate the same plants. Knowing what species of Bees are in your area, and what native plants they often pollinate, helps greatly when choosing or creating Seed Bombs… But even this is not including the thousands of other insects that are just as important as pollinators; though roughly the most important, Bees are not the only pollinators with importance. Some of these additional pollinators have very specific plants that they pollinate, or use for food or reproduction- such as the Beetles which are necessary to pollinate Magnolia Trees, the Monarch which requires Milkweed, or the Swallowtail which requires plants from the Apiaceae family (Parsley, Carrots, and related plants).

Not all plants are created equal. It is absolutely imperative that if we want Seed Bombs to truly be “fun and friendly”, we take great care to tailor them to our individual locations instead of opting for Seed Bombs with unknown or generalized content- or relying on commercial stock. We also have to consider other animals, as well- such as those that feed on certain insects, those herbivores and omnivores which eat certain plants, and more. This is especially true if we want to garner the greatest ecological impact with such actions.

Doing that, however, requires us to have a much broader line of sight than basic activism; it is important that we look beyond the relatively small minded activism of Seed Bombing itself, and into the larger and more broad action of Civilian Conservationism: Learning about, getting hands on with, and studying our local environments as a whole in order to figure out how to best benefit it as a whole– as opposed to risking the potential loss of such ecosystems through microfocusing on specific species, general carelessness, and an overall lack of education (even if we meant well).

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