A hashtag that includes emojis of a seedling, flower and bee has amassed more than 50 million views on TikTok.
The tag is a nod to the trend known as “flower bombing,” a form of guerilla gardening where native wildflower seeds are planted in unoccupied public spaces. The purpose is to promote biodiversity, re-establish native plants and disrupt urbanism.
“When you are young, full of ideals and just want to make a difference – the idea of tossing a little [flower] bomb that will take on a life of its own, I think, is appealing,” said Keith Homer, a Utah-based landscaper and high school teacher.
A decrease in roadless areas results in less biodiversity as flora and fauna lose their habitats to road development. This then leads to pollution and human interactions, such as collisions with animals due to increased traffic.
Homer said he’s done his own share of guerilla gardening, recalling one occasion when he planted extra tulips in his neighbor’s backyard under the cover of night. “[My neighbor’s] wife went on and on about the miracle of these tulips popping up, and she was crying because she thought it was a miracle,” he said.
While flower bombing can help beautify urban spaces, it’s illegal to garden on a property you don’t own and can also pose an environmental risk.
Brittany Blackham, an environmental and sustainability student at the University of Utah, said anyone considering flower bombing should, beforehand, think about the possible impacts – both positive and negative.
“I have some automatic hesitations,” she said. “Just thinking we can go in and do whatever we want has created a lot of problems in terms of climate change, unsustainable practices and abusing resources.”
Once something has altered an ecosystem, Blackham said, it’s challenging to remove the seeds, which can be detrimental to the environment if plants sprouted from those seeds become invasive and threaten native species.
Homer said additional dangers of invasive species include not knowing how it could affect people and animals. Myrtle spurge, a succulent that sprouts yellow and white flowers, is an example of a invasive species that the Salt Lake County Health Department considers a noxious weed.
“I’ve gotten it on my skin … and it just starts to itch and you get a big rash,” he said, noting other reactions can include swelling, blisters, eye irritation and temporary blindness. “That’s one the people have propagated in the past because it looks cool.”
Before planting any flowers, Blackham suggests first doing research to ensure they are native and non-invasive. She recommends resources like the National Invasive Species Center, Utah Pollinator Habitat Program and Utah State University’s yard and garden web page.
“Support it with education,” Blackham said.
Thoughtful and informed flower bombing, Homer said, can create eye-catching flora and help with biodiversity so long as those engaging in the practice are aware of the potential long-term consequences.
“If you can make someone stop in their tracks or do a double take when they’re [walking] by, your design has changed someone’s life,” he said. “You have affected the universe in a way.”