Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nectar and Pollen Sources

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.


  1. some beekeeping society or group should propose to the various forestry and agriculture departments to propagate important bee plants and trees ann sell seeds or plants to be planted by interested individuals. Ans bee keepers shoulld sell them with their honey to persons buying honey. Boy and Girl Scouts could be used to promote the same thing......too many of the really good Honey sources are being destroyed by agriculture and Urban sprall.

  2. Boy and Girl Scouts should promote the planting of as many trees and plants that land owners will allow that will provide a variety of honey nectar flows in each community. Urban sprall and current farming practices are desimating the native plant life and making a sterile environment for honey bees---To me it is no wonder that the number of current hives is decreasing each year. Soon the bee population will be destroyed by insecticide and mono clonal farming.