Flowers are more than just beautiful. They're also bee friendly. With the ongoing global bee crisis — the U.S. added seven species of bees to the endangered species list in 2016 — everyone needs to do their part to help nurture the bee population.

Cheerios is making it easy for anyone with a little, or a large, plot of dirt to help the bees. The company is giving away free Cosmos seed packets inside specially-marked Honey Nut Cheerios boxes. The goal is to give away enough seeds so 5 million Americans can plant pollinating gardens.

“Cosmos is a lovely garden flower that provides food for bees without risk of becoming invasive. It’s easy to grow, cheerful to look at, and hums with activity from gentle bees, said Eric Lee-Mäder, co-director of the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Program, on Cheerios' Save the Bees website. “While it is not a substitute for large-scale protection and restoration of native wildflower habitat, especially on farms where it’s needed most, small pollinator gardens like those you can create with Cosmos provide an additive value to bees, making our backyards and urban areas more hospitable and favorable for all pollinators.”

The website indicates just a few reasons why keeping the bee population as healthy as possible is important.

  • 1 in 3 bites of food we eat is made possible by bees and other pollinators.
  • 44 percent of bee colonies in the U.S. collapsed in 2016.
  • More than two-thirds of the world's crop species rely on pollinators.

By 2020, the company's "oat farms will host about 3,300 acres of nectar- and pollen-rich wildflowers, which are full of the nutrients bees and other pollinators need to stay strong."

Cheerios' seeds problem in the past

Last year, Cheerios gave away more than 100 million wildflower seeds. While the company's intention may have been good, there was pushback from some people claiming that the packets of various wildflowers were invasive for some regions.

Speaking to LifeHacker about the seed giveaway, invasive planet expert Kathryn Turner stressed that "no plant is inherently 'bad,' but many species can and have caused a great deal of damage when they are introduced into locations outside of their native range." Turner's concern is that all these wildflowers don't behave the same way in different parts of the country. So, for example, a forget-me-not may behave like an invasive plant in the Northeast, out competing native plants.

This year, Cheerios seems to be making a more concerted effort in ensuring that its seed packets aren't invasive. However while Cosmos are native to Mexico and Central America and can be grown in most locations, there are still several areas in the United States where the flower is invasive.

2016 Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States To find out exactly which areas are highlighted in this map, click on the photo credit. (Photo: Swearingen, J., C. Bargeron/University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health)

Cheerios responded to comments on its Facebook page about the concerns, saying that the plants chosen in the seed packets "are not considered invasive" and were chosen for the appeal to bees and other pollinators.

How to plant the seeds

According to the Save the Bees website and Page's Seeds, here are instructions on planting Cosmos seeds.

Cosmos, bipinnatus is an annual for full sun. Cosmos prefer dry to moderate soil. Sow outdoors after danger of frost. For an early start, sow seeds indoors 4-5 weeks before the last spring frost. The first blooms of crimson, white and pink will appear in 7 weeks and continue through summer and fall. Brilliant blooms reach heights of 36”-72" and are excellent for beds and borders.

If you get a packet of Cheerio's Cosmos seeds, you can post photos of their progress as they grow on social media using the hashtag #bringbackthebees.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in March 2017.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.