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Fool Me Once by Interpreter Christine (April 2024)

This is where I would tell you about the enormous sasquatch tracks found in the park last week or even show you the photo we recently took of a wild pack of jackalopes. This April Fools’ Day, though, I thought I’d instead debunk popular myths, give a little perspective, and challenge some assumptions so we’re less likely to be fooled. So here are some common Spring-themed misconceptions I’ve heard as an interpreter about our natural world.

“It’s illegal to pick a California poppy.” 

Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Surely, these emblematic cups of gold, our California state flower, THE California poppy, are legally protected from removal. Or so many believe! 

Bright orange poppies against a vivid blue sky.

When it comes to the legality, it’s all about location, location, location. If this orange flower (loved by yellow-faced bumble bees, cucumber beetles, and Californians looking for the perfect visual aid to express just how  Californian they are) were to spring up in your backyard–100% pickable. It comes down to the question of who owns and manages the land. Do you have their permission to pick the poppy? The answer to that question determines if it’s illegal or not. A poppy growing in a pot you own? Sure, give yourself permission to pick it. A poppy growing in regional, state, federal parks, or other public lands where regulations expressly tell visitors not to pick? Illegal. These rules aren’t just for California poppies, either; any plant growing in those lands would be illegal to pick–unless you had express permission. 

“Save the bees!” 

Colony collapse disorder, bee-friendly gardens, agricultural economies—the fate of entire ecosystems hinges on the call to action–save the bees! The confusion comes down to which bees need saving. 

Bees are a PR win for the world of insects: fascinating eusocial dynamics, interpretive dance directions, pollination powerhouses, and honey. But these things that “bees” are known for are mostly just things one species of bee is known for. We’re talking about the European honey bee. If I asked you to picture a bee right now, the honey bee is probably what you’d envision. That makes sense, given how common they are; European honey bees, originally from (you guessed it) Europe, are now found on every continent apart from Antarctica. 

A bee on a purple flower with yellow background.

Their prevalence is two-part... #1) As a non-native species outside their native range, they often lack predators and can outcompete native bees for resources. #2) They are found not just in the wild as feral colonies but are tended to in domesticated colonies by the agricultural industry for both their ability to pollinate crops and their production of honey. So let me assure you, the European honey bee is NOT at risk of going anywhere anytime soon. 

The bees that really need saving? Here in California, scientists estimate that there are 1,600 species of native bees. Contrary to the honey bee, most of these species are solitary, don’t produce honey, and live in wood or tunnels underground. Native bees span from large and fuzzy yellow and black bumble bees to glistening metallic-green sweat bees to almost imperceptibly small mining bees. They’re also much better pollinators than European honey bees, especially for native plants. Even the work of pollinating crops that European honey bees are tasked to do may be done more effectively by native bees. These 1,600 species in California and 4,000 species across North America are the bees currently most at risk of extinction as they face habitat loss, climate change, and the impact of non-native and invasive species, including the European honey bee. So yes, save the bees! Plant native plants, limit pesticide use, protect habitat, and spread the good word about the amazing diversity of bees that call California home. 

“April showers bring May flowers.” 
Daisies in the rain, water droplets visible on petals and falling.

This is less of a myth and more of a reframing of perspective! This well-known adage has origins as far back as 1157 with English poet Thomas Tusser, or a couple hundred years later in 1387 with English poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer and his work “Canterbury Tales.” As snow turns to rain and temperatures rise, April typically remains the wettest month for an English climate. When English colonies, cultures, and languages expanded throughout the world, sayings like this one traveled along as well. But is a saying about springtime in England still applicable here in California? 

California is known for not having seasons (which I’ll count as a bonus misconception we’re about to address). In reality, the climate of most of California involves two seasons–hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Sometimes referred to as “Mediterranean climate” (the phrase itself being another Eurocentric perspective), this type of climate can be found throughout the world, including the Mediterranean, Baja California, Central Chile, South Africa, and the southern and southwest parts of Australia. 

We here in the Bay Area may more aptly say, “Rainy season showers bring January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and September flowers.” Ah, poetry. 

Authors Note

These are a handful of myths and misconceptions I’ve heard as an interpreter over the years. The list grows longer every year as I have a challenged perspective, do a deep dive into a topic, or just pause long enough to ask, “…but why do I believe this? Where did this idea come from?” Perhaps I’ll tackle more topics in future articles, from baby rattlesnake venom potency to the “majestic” calls of bald eagles.

In the meantime, what are some nature myths you know of? Or are there things about nature you’ve believed to be true but now aren’t so sure?

Please feel free to humor my love of questions and learning by sharing with me at Here’s to another April Fools’ Day – and may we all grow a little less foolish this year!