Last year, 5 years after Apple’s legendary co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the “spaceship” design for the new Apple campus, the project finally finished and the new campus started its use. While the huge spaceship is undoubtedly the most striking element of the campus, there is another equally important yet less known feature. It is this massive amount of plants planted on the campus, which fills out the 3 acre space – 9000 trees, and countless California native and other drought tolerant plants. It is not something that just happened that way – it is by design. When Steve Jobs was planning the campus, from the very beginning he was very adamant that it should just be like what Silicon Valley was before the digital transformation. As Steven Levy of Backchannel said, Jobs “wanted to create a microcosm of Silicon Valley, a landscape reenactment of the days when the cradle of digital disruption had more fruit trees than engineers. In one sense, the building would be an ecological preservation project; in another sense, it’d be a roman a clef written in soil, bark, and blossom.” Today the campus fulfills that vision. Inside and outside, the space is fully filled with trees and shrubs, many of them California natives. A plant that grow in abundance on the campus is California Lilac. On an early morning in March, a stroll along the campus could find that some of the lilacs grew to be big bushes already in less than one year’s time. They are blooming, with massive bright blue blossom. Close up, you will see some small creatures busy at work.
The bees were busy collecting pollens, which is their food. Look at the two small yellow balls – they sure have collected quite a bit of pollen! When the bees flying from flowers to flowers collecting their pollens, they rub pollens from a flower onto another, pollinating the flowers, which enables fertilization and turns the flowers into fruits. As most flowers need pollination to grow into fruits, without these small creatures, we can’t enjoy a lot of the fruits we are so accustomed to having every day. Look around us – from the apple we ate in the morning, to the jeans we wear (cotton), and blueberries we snacked on in the afternoon, they all have bees to thank for. Bees pollinate 75% of world’s main crops. According to USDA, bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion or more of American crops per year. It is hard to imagine a world without the bees pollinating all those crops!
Unfortunately, in the last several decades, bees have been on a decline. According to a study by Center for Biological Diversity (author Kelsey Kopec, a pollinator researcher):
For one of the wild bees, the rusty patched bumble bee, its population has declined by so much (almost 90%) since 1990s that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as an endangered species in early 2017. The bee became first wild bee in the continental United States to be listed as endangered species. Why such decline? In the same study, the author indicated that “A primary driver of these declines is agricultural intensification, which includes habitat destruction and pesticide use. Other major threats are climate change and urbanization.” Loss of habitat is one of the top reasons for loss of bees, which makes total sense. The bees have been feeding on the plants in their native land for hundreds of thousands of years; when the habitats are lost to farming or industrialization, the plants are gone, so are the bees.
Bees need flowers’ nectar and pollen for their food; they especially like those from native plants, which is something that they have been feeding on for hundreds of thousands of years. The California Lilac seen here at the Apple campus, is a big California native, and a favorite for bees with its dense blue blossom. Lilac can bloom from late spring to summer, providing a good 4-5 months of food to the bees. Another big native plant, the state flower, California Golden Poppy, also attract bees when they bloom. Seaside Daisy, and Yarrow, heavily planted around the Apple campus, are two other natives that bees love.
As bees play such a critical role for the ecosystem we live in, and for our food and agriculture business, we should do everything we can to provide them a good environment, putting them back onto a path for healthy growth. One critical step to achieve this is plant more native and other pollinator friendly plants. Apple has done this by planting massive amounts of native plants on its campus; Many city parks and nature reserves also use their vast spaces for the purpose. Here you can see California Lilac in a city park and a nature reserve in the San Francisco Bay area. These are all great examples, but we can do more.
In the last several decades, lawns have become the dominate landscapes for most single family residences in the country. People now realize, lawns not only consume a lot of water – over half of the water is used for outdoor watering in California, but also contribute to the loss of habitats for bees and other pollinators. The stretch after stretch of green provides hardly any food or shelter for the bees. By replacing lawns with native and other bee friendly plants, we can gradually put back the habitats that were lost, piece by piece. We can help restore the habitats, starting from our own house. The owner of this place wanted to replace their back yard with something much more attractive. They decided to put in drought tolerant landscapes, and applied for Santa Clara Water District’s Landscape Conversion Rebate Program. During the project, when they saw a lilac, they wanted it for their garden right away. The project was finished quickly and they received the rebate promptly. Now, they can enjoy the lovely garden, and the striking beauty the lilac provides. Bees surely will love the new lilac too! This garden is filled with California natives. It was installed in fall, by next spring the bloom was already full on, with bees busy feasting on the Golden Poppy, Buckwheat and Matilijia Poppy. On a day in summer, while the poppy was already near its end of the bloom, a bee could still be seen working on it. By putting in a garden with lots of California natives and other drought tolerant plants, not only can you save a lot of water, but provide a habitat for the bees and other pollinators, which in turn can help build a more sustainable environment. Spring is a great time for planting. Start today, and see native plants’ bloom and bees tomorrow!