Busloads of Israeli children still travel to the countryside every year on Tu BiShvat to plant saplings in honor of the arboreal new year. Yet, today, they are unlikely to plant the iconic conifer. Instead, JNF nurseries are handing out “pollinator protectors,” nectar-providing species that are turning Tu BiShvat into a time to celebrate not only trees, but also bees.
Honeybees are a critical element of Israel’s forests and meadows, and the primary pollinators of ecosystems across the globe. Wild and domestic honeybees are responsible for some 80% of all pollination in the world, including 70 out of the top 100 human food crops. Bees also support the growth of flowers and wild plants essential for natural food chains.
In recent years, the international honeybee population has plummeted drastically, posing a threat to both natural biodiversity and human food security. Scientists attribute the bees’ plight— known as “bee colony collapse”— to a range of causes, including drought, habitat destruction, monoculture farming, and pesticide use. In the U.S., beekeepers have reported a 44% loss of honeybee colonies just between 2015 and 2016. One wild bee, a critical pollinator, was even recently placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As the rest of the world frets about a looming agricultural crisis due to bee loss, Israel has managed to keep its bee population in good health. In response to beekeepers’ and ecologists’ concerns about the impact of intensive urban development and agricultural industrialization on Israel’s bees, JNF and the Israeli Honey Council, the national body that monitors honey production, partnered to plant 1.5 million nectar-providing trees and bushes. Since its implementation in 2012, the project has overseen the planting of hundreds of thousands of bee-attracting plants and trees annually. These “mega-producers” flower year round, offering bees a continual food source and ensuring their health and pollinating ability. They include several species of small eucalyptus varieties from Australia, species native to Israel such as carob and jujube trees, and a variety of flowering plants from arid climates around the world.