What can I plant to help the honey bees?

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What do honey bees like to eat? First, a little background.

When a plant is introduced into an area outside of it's native habitat, it often becomes an invasive species due to a lack of predators, competitors, or other limits to growth that existed in it's native environment. Some herbicide manufactures would like you to believe that a “weed” can be any plant that is growing in the wrong place. Another definition of a “weed” is a plant that grows first on disturbed earth. In nature, weeds fill an important niche, rapidly germinating and growing to stabilize bare earth exposed from an uprooted tree, a collapsed river bank, a fire, flood, plow, or bulldozer.

The honey bees we cultivate in North America are the western or European honey bee (Apis mellifera), native to Europe, Asia and Africa. During the early 1600s they were introduced to North America. Other European subspecies were introduced two centuries later. Since then, they have spread throughout the Americas.

Since the European honey bee evolved in Europe, Asia and Africa, it may prefer plants native to Europe, Asia and Africa, plants that it evolved with. Most of which, after being introduced into North America, are now considered ”WEEDS!”, even though many of these “weeds” are beautiful, edible, nutritious and healthy! In fact, many of our weeds were brought over by the early European settlers for their medicinal value.

Why do we think a manicured lawn is beautiful? It is all the same color, the same height, the same texture. Boring! And of little medicinal or nutritional value, unless your are a cow. But the same yard, filled with “weeds”, with their many different colored flowers, heights, textures, nutritional and medicinal values are considered ugly and often violate restrictive covenants or zoning ordinances. Perhaps when we climbed down out of the trees and first stood erect on the savannahs, cutting the grass enabled us to see the lions and tigers, allowing more time for fight or flight.

Below is a list of flowers commonly found in Southeast North America from which the European honey bee gathers nectar and pollen. The list is divided into three sections: species native to the Americas, species native to Eurasia, species native to both the Americas and Eurasia

Plant species native to the Americas

Plant species native to Eurasia

Plant species native to the Americas and Eurasia

What can I plant to help the honey bees?

  1. Never plant an invasive species. A species may only be invasive (and illegal) in certain areas. For example, "It is illegal to possess, plant, transport, or sell purple loosestrife in Minnesota."
  2. Provide bee pasture. Allow wild, weedy areas like meadows or fence rows to grow. Do not apply herbicides to fence rows. Wait until after the first hard frost to mow.
  3. Landscape with pollen and nectar producers from the above lists, but remember:
    1. For a period of several days to several weeks, your plantings may be covered with bees. You may want to keep the plants away from doors and areas of public foot travel.
    2. Although a plant is a good pollen or nectar producer in one area the plant may not produce well in other areas due to changes in soil type, pH, rainfall, temperatures, etc.

  1. Aster
  2. Black Eyed Susan
  3. Henbit
  4. Daisy
  5. Dusty Miller
  6. Hosta
  7. Oregano
  8. Rosemary
  1. Abelia
  2. Camellia
  3. Crape Myrtle
  4. St John Wort
  5. Oregon Grape
  1. Apple
  2. Gum
  3. Maple
  4. Peach
  5. Redbud
  6. Sourwood
  7. Tulip Poplar

Poisonous Plants

Nectar or pollen that is toxic to to one species may be beneficial to another species - what is poisonous to honey bees may not be toxic to us.

Yellow Jasmine, Lilly of the Valley Bush are toxic to people, pets and livestock.

These plants are toxic to honeybees. Pollen or nectar may cause brood death when gathered by the bees. However, they may be beneficial to other species of bees.




God on lawns

God on lawns A conversation between God and St. Francis about lawn care.

Honey Plants of North America

Honey Plants of North America by John H. Lovell published 1926. Reprinted edition available from Amazon.

Pollinator-Friendly Plant Lists

Pollinator-Friendly Plant Lists, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Nectar and Pollen Producing Plants of Alabama: A Guide for Beekeepers ANR-0351

from Nectar and Pollen Producing Plants of Alabama: A Guide for Beekeepers ANR-0351, Alabama A & M and Auburn Universities

"Beginners in beekeeping frequently ask questions about growing crops or plants specif­ically for honey production. In general, it is not economically practical to grow a crop for the honey bees alone. Beekeepers are largely dependent on cultivated crops grown for other purposes or on wild plants. However, under certain conditions, it may be advantageous for beekeepers to use certain nectar and pollen producing plants in landscaping their home grounds and to plant certain crops on idle land. Either case would require selection of specific plants or crops adapted to, and suitable for specific locations and situations.

Allow wild, weedy areas (e.g., meadows, fence rows) nearby for supplemental bee pasture. Keep records of dates when plants bloom because there is variation in the dates from one section of the state to another and also some variation from year to year. After a few years, you will know when to expect your greatest surplus honey storage and what quality of honey to expect from various nectar sources. Some wild plants that may be useful for nectar or pollen production also have a negative side that should be noted. These plants of concern are exotic, invasive plants that crowd out native species, disrupt native ecosystem processes, and reduce biodiversity and forest productivity. These invasive plants are not native to the southeastern United States, but were introduced from other continents during the last 200 years. Chinese privet and tallowtree (or popcorn tree) are two examples of well-established, invasive plants that also provide for bee pasture. While honeybees will forage these plants, intentionally planting these is not recommended."

Pollination: Plants for Year-round Bee Forag

from Pollination: Plants for Year-round Bee Forage, University of Georgia School of Agriculture

"It is important for bees, especially bumble bees, to have an unbroken succession of bloom all summer to build up their local populations. If you want to encourage bee populations, grow or encourage plants from this list so that bloom is more-or-less continuous on your property."

Plants that are important sources of pollen and nectar for bees in the South and their blooming dates are listed.

FAT BEES. SKINNY BEES. -a manual on honey bee nutrition for beekeepers

FAT BEES. SKINNY BEES (PDF 4 megabytes) A report for the Rural Industries. Research and Development Corporation. By Doug Somerville. Livestock Officer (Apiculture). NSW Department of Primary Industries. Goulburn. RIRDC Publication No 05/054. RIRDC Project No DAN-186A

Chapter 6. Pollen Chemical Composition lists crude protein, amino acid, mineral and fat contents of honey-bee collected pollens in Australia. While this lists plants found in Australia, plants of the same genus typically have similar pollen characteristics regardless of where they grow.

The long quest for the right pollen: how to really help bees

The long quest for the right pollen: how to really help bees Michał Filipiak Environmental Biologist, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Jagiellonian University