Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Magnolia Family

I ran into my beekeeping friend Randolph Richards at a honey bee conference. Randolph is a retired college professor who is quite an authority on bee plants, especially those that grow in Tennessee and Kentucky. He gives some of the most interesting presentations on bee plants. I mentioned to him that I had been reading that there are a half dozen families of important bee plants: legumes, roses, mints, snapdragons, composites, and mustards. Each family contains numerous plants that supply ample amounts of nectar and pollen to the honey bees. Randolph said there is one more quite important family of bee plants, the magnolias. The magnolia family, Magnoliaceae, includes one of the most important nectar-producing flowering plants, tuliptree. Tuliptree, also known as tulip poplar or yellow poplar tree, is an important source of honey across Tennessee, Kentucky, and much of the eastern United States. We don’t find tuliptree in any abundance here in the Arkansas Delta, though.

Other members of the magnolia family include several species of flowering magnolia trees. The beautiful flowering blossoms of these magnolias often produce large quantities of pollen. Pollen is important to the honey bees as a source of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Tuliptree is a heavy producer of nectar, a carbohydrate and the source of honey. When the bees mix the pollen and nectar to produce bee bread, they make a complete diet for their brood. The towering tuliptree produces nectar from large, tulip-shaped blossoms. Each flower only produces nectar for about a day and a half. However, during its relatively short blooming period, one of these large trees may produce nine pounds of nectar. From this nectar, the bees may produce two to two and a half pounds of honey. Tuliptree honey, considered to be of good quality, is reddish amber in color and rather strong if flavor. I am sure that on a cold Kentucky morning Randolph enjoys a breakfast of fried rabbit and hot, buttered biscuits with tuliptree honey.


  1. Thank you for all the information about this tree! My honeybees were all over the flowers today. They were so loud that I thought I had a swarm in the tree!

  2. Tulip poplar is said to make a reddish honey, is it fruity tasting? If not, what blooms while it's still cool, having a reddish honey with a fruity taste? Where it was still a cool time of the year. Wisteria and yellow jessmine might been in bloom. Where me, good usually taste better when someone else cooks it. But if I make it and tell you it's good. You better believe it's good. And this reddish honey was delicious. Made me think of watermelon, but weren't any watermelons that time of year.
    I'd appreciate feedback.

    1. Bees make a reddish honey from tulip poplar that I describe as being somewhat robust in flavor. If you live in the South, kudzu makes a fruity honey that tastes like grapes. Kudzu is a legume, like wisteria. Yellow jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, by the way, is toxic to honey bees. Hopefully, these beautiful yellow-flowered plants are not too prevalent in your area.

      Enjoy your beekeeping and honey!