Northern American nectar sources for honey bees

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A honey bee collecting nectar from an apple flower.

The nectar source in a given area depends on the type of vegetation present and the length of their bloom period. What type of vegetation will grow in an area depends on soil texture, soil pH, soil drainage, daily maximum and minimum temperatures, precipitation, extreme minimum winter temperature, and growing degree days. The plants listed below are plants that grow in USDA Hardiness zone 5. A good predictor for when a plant will bloom and produce nectar is a calculation of the growing degree days. Hopkins' Bioclimatic Law states that in North America east of the Rockies, a 130 m (400-foot) increase in elevation, a 4° change in latitude north (444.48 km), or a 10° change in longitude east (two thirdth of a time zone) will cause any given biological event to occur four days later in the spring or four days earlier in the fall. In botany, the term phenology refers to the timing of flower emergence, sequence of bloom, fruiting, and leaf drop in autumn.

The classification in major or minor nectar source is very dependent on the agricultural use of the land. Agricultural crops like canola and alfalfa may be a major or minor source depending on local plantings. Generally, the more diverse a forage area is, the better for a stationary apiary. Urban, suburban and areas not under cultivation provide more consistent year-round nectar forage than areas that are heavily cultivated with a few agricultural crops. The nectar sources from large cultivated fields of blooming apples, cherries, canola, melons, sun flowers, clover etc. are of benefit to a bee keeper who is willing to travel with his hives throughout the season.

Honeydew sources are not included in this listing.

Trees and shrubs[edit]

Plant type Common name Latin name Begin Bloom Month End Bloom Month Monofloral honey Availability Source for honey bees / pounds of honey per acre
T Maple Acer 2 4 no feral major but temperature usually too cold
T Red Maple[1] Acer rubrum 2 4 no feral major but temperature usually too cold for bees to fly
T Ohio Buckeye [2] Aesculus glabra 4 5 no feral minor
S Shadbush Amelanchier arborea 4 5 no feral minor
S, T Devils-walkingstick Aralia spinosa 7 8 no feral minor
S Red Chokeberry Aronia arbutifolia, Photinia pyrifolia 5 6 no feral minor
S Black Chokeberry[3] Aronia melanocarpa 5 6 no feral minor
T Catalpa, Indian Bean [2][3][4] Catalpa speciosa 6 7 no feral, ornamental minor
S Common Hackberry Celtis occidentalis 4 5 no feral minor
S Buttonbush [2] Cephalanthus occidentalis 7 8 Honey is light in color and mild in flavor. feral
S Hawthorn Crataegus 4 5 no feral minor - 50 - 100 pounds/acre
S Honeysuckle [2] Diervilla lonicera 6 8 minor
T Honey Locust Gleditsia triancanthos 5 6 no feral minor
S American Holly Ilex opaca 4 6 no feral minor, important in southeastern US
T Tulip-tree[5] Liriodendron tulipifera 5 6 yes, see Monofloral honey feral major in southern Appalachians and Piedmont
T Apple[3] Malus domestica 4 5 No, the nectar is mostly used for spring brood raising and not stored for surplus. see Monofloral honey[4] cultivated minor
T Crab Apple Malus sylvestris; Malus coronaria [2] 3 6 no ornamental minor
T Cherry [2][3] Prunus cerasus 4 5 no feral, cultivated minor
T Pear Pyrus communis 4 5 no cultivated minor
T Black Cherry Prunus serotina 4 5 no feral, cultivated minor
T Plum Prunus 4 5 no feral, cultivated minor
S Common Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica 5 6 no feral minor
T Sumac[2] Rhus glabra 6 7 mixed with other honeys feral major
T Black locust[3][4] Robinia pseudoacacia 5 6 yes, see Monofloral honey feral major - 800 - 1200 pounds/; short bloom period of about 10 days
S Raspberry Rubus 5 6 yes, see Monofloral honey feral, cultivated major in some areas
S Blackberry Rubus spp. 5 6 yes, see Monofloral honey [2] feral, cultivated major in some areas[3]
T Willow Salix 2 4 no feral, ornamental major but outside temperatures are usually too cold for bees to fly. 100 - 150 pounds honey per acre; 1,500 pounds pollen
T Pussy Willow Salix discolor 3 4 no feral, ornamental major but temperature usually too cold for bees to fly
T Bee bee tree Tetradium 7 9 ornamental major
T Basswood[3][4] Tilia americana, Tilia cordata 6 7 yes, short flow up to 14 days; Honey white; aromatic [2] see Monofloral honey feral, ornamental Produces a high volume of honey on a cycle of every five to eight years, with lower volume of nectar other years. major 800 - 1,100 pounds honey
T American Elm Ulmus americana 2 4 no feral minor
S Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium angustifolium, Vaccinium pennsylvanicum 5 6 no. Honey amber and of good flavor. cultivated minor in most areas. Strong colonies may store 50-90 pounds of surplus from it.[2]
S Black haw[3] Viburnum prunifolium 5 6

Flowers, crops, herbs and grasses[edit]

Plant type Common name Latin name Begin Bloom Month End Bloom Month Monofloral honey Availability Source for honey bees
F Anise hyssop[3] Agstache foeniculum 7 10 no feral minor
F Blue bugle, Bugleherb, Bugleweed, Carpetweed, Common bugle[3] Ajuga reptans 5 5
F Chives [3] Allium schoenoprasum 5 9 no cultivated minor
C, F Garlic chives Allium tuberosa 8 9 no cultivated minor
F Leadwort Amorpha fruticosa 6 7 no feral minor
F Milkweed [5][4] Asclepias spp. 55 species 7 8 feral All species are great for honeybees. Nectar is so abundant that it is possible to shake the blossom and actually see the nectar fall. major 120 - 250 pounds honey, depending on soil and if good fertilization Asclepias syriaca has the highest honey yield.
F Butterfly Weed[3] Asclepias tuberosa 7 8 no feral minor
C Asparagus Asparagus officinalis 5 6 no cultivated minor
F Milk Vetch Astragalus spp. 5 6 no feral minor
F Aster Aster spp. 8 10 usually mixed with goldenrod [2] feral, ornamental major[3]
F Borage[3] Borago officinalis 6 10 no feral, ornamental minor, but can be major on cultivated area 200 pounds honey per acre; 60-160 pounds pollen
C, F Mustard[5] Brassica arvenisi (L.); Brassica campestris 4 5 no? cultivated minor?
C Oilseed Rape (Canola) [3] Brassica napus L., Brassica rapa 5 6 yes, see Monofloral honey cultivated major
F Marigold Calendula officinalis 6 9 no ornamental minor
F Canada thistle Carduus arvensis light honey of good quality [2]
F Thistle Centaurea spp. 7 9 no feral minor
F Mountain Bluet Centaurea Montana (Knapweed) 5 5 no?? feral major
F Creeping thistle Cirsium arvense 7 9 feral (invasive in North America)
F Sweet Autumn Clematis Clematis terniflora 9 9 ornamental minor
F Clethra Summersweet [3] Clethra alnifolia 7 8 no feral minor
C, F Cucumber 6 9 no; Honey is pale yellow or amber with strong flavor.[2] cultivated minor
C Melon 6 10 no cultivated minor
C Pumpkin Cucurbita pepo 6 10 no cultivated minor
C, F Wild Carrot Daucus carota 8 9 no feral minor
F Leopardsbane Doronicum cordatum 4 5 no feral minor
F Candytuft[3] Iberis sempervirens 5 5
F Viper's Bugloss, Blue thistle, Blue weed[3] Echium vulgare Echium vulgare is most widely known, though there are about 60 additional species. 6 8 no feral In California, spring blooming plant with repeat bloom. Fall bloom provides nectar for bees for overwintering. The most unusual feature of Echium vulgare is the protection of the nectar inside the flower from vaporization (when it’s hot) or flushing away (when it rains). It is why almost for 2 months this plant is a stable source of nectar for bees. Additionally this plant produces nectar throughout the day unlike most plants which produce nectar for a short period of time. If the bees have a good access to Echium they can collect between 12-20 lbs of nectar a day. The concentration of sugars in the nectar vary 22.6-48.3% depending on the quality of the soil, and not on the amount of rain. The honey is light amber in color and ver y fragrant with a pleasant taste, and does not crystallize for 9–15 months.[6] major 300 - 1,000 pounds honey/acre depending on soil. 500-2000 lbs of dark blue pollen.
F Globe Thistle Echinops ritro 8 8 feral major
F Fireweed Epilobium angustifolium 6 9 yes feral major
F Heather Erica vulgaris, though many varieties see Monofloral honey 100 - 200 pounds honey
F Joe-Pye weed, Boneset, White Snakeroot [3] Eutrochium spp. "Eupatorium spp. Eupatorium purpureum; Eupatorium perfoliatum; Eupatorium ageratoides 8 9 no feral minor
C, F Buckwheat [3] Fagopyrum esculentum 7 8 can be; dark honey with distinct flavor; granulates quickly [5] rarely cultivated now minor
F Blue vine Gonolobus laevis no. Honey is clear, heavy bodied of excellent flavor.[2] feral minor; Strong hives can collect up to 100 pounds.[2]
C, F Soybean Glycine soja 7 10 cultivated major
C, F Sunflower Helianthus annuus 6 9 can be feral, cultivated minor 30 - 100 pounds/acre
C, F Basil Koellia cultivated no minor
F Henbit Deadnettle Lamium sp 3 5 no feral minor but valuable due to earliness/frost hardiness
C, F Lavender Lavandula angustifolia 6 9 can be, see Monofloral honey cultivated minor
F Birdsfoot trefoil[3] Lotus corniculatus 6 8 no feral minor
C, F White Sweet Clover[2][4] Melilotus alba 5 8 yes feral, cultivated major up to 200 pounds per hive
C, F Yellow Sweet Clover[2][4] Melilotus officinalis 5 8 yes feral, cultivated major up to 200 pounds per hive
C, F Alfalfa[2][3] Medicago sativa 7 8 as clover honey. Alfalfa honey granulates readily.[2] feral, cultivated major
C, F Clover[3] Melilotus spp. and Trifolium spp. 5 8 as clover honey feral, cultivated major - up to 500 pounds per acre in a good year [2]
F Melissa, Lemon Balm [2] Melissa officinalis Western USA - Prolonged bloom of 45 – 50 days generally in summer, but with repeat blooming in California. Delicate honey with very light, pinkish color. 150 - 250 pounds honey per acre; 50-120 pounds pollen
C, F Peppermint[4] Mentha piperita no feral
F Catnip, Cat mint [2][3] Nepeta mussinii; Nepeta grandiflora; Nepeta cataria 6 9 no feral, ornamental minor
F Oregano Origanum vulgare 6 9 no cultivated? minor
C, F Poppy Papaver somniferum minor - 20 - 30 pounds /acre
F Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia 7 9 can be ornamental minor
C, F Phacelia, Tansy Phacelia tanacetifolia Western US - One of the best spring forage sources for honeybees. Blooms 45–60 days and continuously produces nectar throughout the day. Can be seeded several times per year. Prefers three feet of topsoil. 180 - 1,500 pounds honey per acre, depending on soil quality and depth; 300-1000 pounds of pollen.[6]
F Smartweed Polygonum spp. 8 9 feral major
F Selfheal Prunella vulgaris 7 8 no feral minor
F Lungwort Pulmonaria spp. 5 5 no feral minor
F Appalachian Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum flexuosum 8 10 minor
F Azalea Rhododendron spp. 6 8 no ornamental minor
F Scrophularia Scrophularia spp. 7 7 no feral minor
F Sedum, Autumn Joy [3] Sedum spectabile
F Goldenrod[2] Solidago spp. 9 10 can be; Honey golden color of deep amber; marked flavor; granulates quickly feral major
F Woundwort Stachys byzantina 5 5 no feral minor
F Chickweed [3] Stellaria Media 4 7 no feral minor
F Dandelion Taraxacum officinale 4 5 no Honey deep yellow will granulate quickly; mostly consumed by bees during brood rearing [4] feral major
F Germander, Thyme Teucrium canadense 7 8 no feral minor
F Thyme Thymus pulegioides; Thymus serpyllum 6 7 no feral, cultivated minor - 50 - 150 pounds honey/acre
F Red-Flowering Thyme Thymus praecox 6 7 feral? major
C, F Alsike Clover [2] Trifolium hybridum as clover honey. Alsike clover honey is one of the very best honey plants in America.[2] feral, cultivated major, up to 500 pounds/acre [3]
C, F Crimson clover Trifolium incarnatum as clover honey feral, cultivated major [2]
C, F Red Clover Trifolium pratense 6 7 as clover honey feral, cultivated major
C, F White Clover[5][4] Trifolium repens 6 7 as clover honey; The honey is white or nearly white; very mild flavored and does not granulate readily. see Monofloral honey feral, cultivated major
F Blue Vervain Verbena hastata L. 7 8 no ornamental? minor
F Tall Ironweed Vernonia altissima 8 9 no feral minor
F Speedwell Veronica spicata 6 6 no feral minor
F Tufted Vetch, Common Vetch[3] Vicia cracca 7 8 no feral minor
F Common Vetch Vicia sativa 7 8 no feral minor
F Blackhaw Viburnum prunifolium 5 6 no feral minor
A honey bee on Sweet autumn clematis in September.
Honey bee on Sedum 'Autumn Joy'(Hylotelephium telephium)
Two Bees on a Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ Delaplane, Keith Pollination: Plants for Year-round Bee Forage The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension; Service Bulletin 1164; February 1998 (web accessed Nov 2006)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Pellett, Frank; American Honey Plants, American Bee Journal, Hamilton, Illinois, 297 pages, 1920 [1]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Tew, James Some Ohio Nectar and Pollen Producing Plants Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, 2000
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lovell, John H. Honey plants of North America; THE ROOT COMPANY, 1926
  5. ^ a b c d e Stahlman, Dana T. Honey Plants Flowering Plants Trees Ohio, 2004 (web accessed Jun 2010)
  6. ^ a b Top Five" Plants for Honeybees (accessed Sep 2009)