Smooth sumac is the only tree or shrub which can be found in each of America’s 48 contiguous states. This important bee plant is in bloom now. Its blooms will be followed shortly by winged sumac. Both can be found in stands along roadsides or along the undisturbed margins of woodlots. Sumac’s small, open clusters of flowers are completely exposed, making them accessible to a number of different insect species. I often find honey bees sharing the same clusters of sumac blossoms with solitary bees and soldier beetles. Sumac produces large amounts of both pollen and nectar. The bees gather sumac pollen early in the morning before the sun has stimulated the plant’s nectaries. Later in the day little pollen is gathered. Sumac flowers secrete nectar freely on hot, clear days; but on cloudy or cool days the flow ceases almost entirely. Click on the picture to see a honey bee poised on a sumac flower with her proboscis, or tongue, extended to collect nectar
Pure sumac honey has a golden color. When it is fresh it has a bitter taste. However the bitterness disappears by winter. The mixing of various nectar sources in a hive’s honey stores makes for distinctive flavors. As is the case with sumac honey, the taste of the honey may change over time as well as from season to season. There is very little single-source honey; most honey comes from dozens of different nectar sources. Sumac is a major honey plant. It is, by the way, in the same family as poison ivy and poison oak, two lesser honey plants, which do make good, edible honey.