An observant Central Virginia beekeeper is identifying flowering plants in his area that are useful for producing nectar and pollen. There is a great diversity of flowering plants in a temperate region like Virginia, and a number of these are important bee plants. Virginia honey bees forage prolific nectar sources: clover, black locust, basswood or linden, and tuliptree. The Appalachian Mountains support the sourwood tree, which produces nectar in the higher altitudes. From the nectar of this flowering tree, bees make the famous sourwood honey. Many of the flowering plants produce both nectar and pollen to attract honey bees. There are seven families of flowering plants that can be considered exceptionally important to the honey bees. The rose family contains almonds, apples, pears, plums, cherries, blackberries, and hawthorns. The mustard family includes spinach, turnips, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, and rape or canola. The legume family has peanuts, soybeans, peas, beans, indigo, alfalfa, kudzu vine, and the most prolific honey plant, clover. Some legumes are trees: mimosa, redbud, Kentucky coffeetree, and black locust. The snapdragon family includes mullein and the empress tree. The composite family includes the sunflowers, dandelion, goldenrod, and many garden flowers, like the coneflower and daisy. The mint family includes spearmint, peppermint, catnip, bee balm, lemon balm, and coleus. Finally, the magnolia family includes one important tree for the honey bees, the tuliptree, also known as yellow poplar. Almost any plant in these families can be expected to provide considerable amounts of nectar and pollen.
Beekeepers can identify obscure wildflowers that they observe attracting honey bees by following local guides like Weeds of the Northeast, by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. One person’s weed may be a beekeeper’s important wildflower. The Hive and the Honey Bee, edited by Joe M. Graham, lists a number of bee plants according to family and identifies them as nectar or pollen sources. Today’s photo is a bumblebee collecting pollen from native wildflowers at the seven thousand foot elevation on Pike’s Peak in Colorado.