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Bee trees

Local ecologist's parent website - the local ecology project - promotes landscapes designed to produce ecosystem services, one of which is wildlife habitat and forage.  We were thrilled to read Jim McCausland's article about nectar trees for honey bees!  The article was originally published on the Sunset Fresh Dirt blog.

In response to our blog listing Nectar Plants for Honey Bees, Jim Fischer of The Gotham City Honey Co-Op commented that we should “Consider simply planting a tree that flowers. One Linden tree or Tulip Poplar tree will provide more nectar than a half-acre of the plants listed above.”

Though space for more trees is at a premium in most gardens, his point is well taken, and I promised to follow up with the following list of trees that honey bees forage for nectar and pollen. Such lists vary hugely from region to region, and while this list reflects my experience in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve included many trees that are widely adaptable.

Because honey bees don’t fly at temperatures much under 55° F, I start my list in February (the first month in my area whose daytime temperatures regularly rise into the 50s) and end it in November, when daytime temps drop from the 50's into the 40's. Where you live, flowering times may vary, but the order will be the same.

This list is heavy with spring-flowering trees for two reasons. First, because that's when most trees flower. Second, Fischer told me that the nectar of spring-flowering trees has generally higher sugar content than that of summer-flowering trees to attract pollinators. That lets bees fill the hive with honey early.

Plum Autumn-flowering cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’)
Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume)
Pussy willows (Salix species)

Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)
Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia)
Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana)
Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)
European pear (Pyrus communis)
Flowering cherries (mostly Prunus x subhirtella, Prunus x yedoensis, and Prunus sargentiana varieties)
Flowering plums (mostly Prunus blireiana and Prunus cerasifera varieties)
Pears (Pyrus communis)
Plums (Prunus domestica)
Pussy willows (Salix species)
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana)
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Apple (Malus pumila)
Asian pear (Pryus pyrifolia)
Crabapple (Malus)
Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida)
Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
Flowering cherries (mostly Prunus serrulata varieties)
Flowering plums (mostly Prunus cerasifera varieties)
Goldenchain tree (Laburnum x watereri)
Hawthorn (Crataegus)
*Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
Peach (Prunus persica)
Plum (Prunus domestica)
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana)
Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)
Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis)

Eastern dogwood Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina)
Crabapple (Malus hybrids)
Dove tree (Davidia involucrata)
Eastern dogwood (Cornus florida)
Empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa)
European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
Goldenchain tree (Laburnum x watereri)
Hawthorn (Crataegus)
Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa)
Red horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea)
Spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus)

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
Japanese snowdrop tree (Styrax japonicus)
Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
Korean dogwood (Cornus kousa)
Locust (Robinia x ambigua)
Privet (Ligustrum)
Tulip tree, aka tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Common catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides)
Littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata)
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima)

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Silk tree or mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

Autumn-flowering cherry (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’)
Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) has published a huge number of items about bees in its One-block-diet blog and in the magazine itself. For more information about how to grow the plants in this post, go to Sunset's Plant Finder.

*Californica buckeye (Aesculus californica) pollen produces fatal mutations in honey bees. Some fear that horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) might do the same because it's a cousin of the buckeye.

Jim McCausland is a Sunset contributing editor and reports on gardens and travel in the Pacific Northwest from his home office in western Washington.


Kelly Brenner said…
Not to mention native flowering trees of the Pacific Northwest like Vine Maple, Big-Leaf Maple, Pacific Serviceberry, Pacific Madrone and Pacific Dogwood, all of which also attract bees. Great food for thought though on the idea that one tree can provide the equivalent of acres of smaller plants. As well as all of the other wonderful benefits that trees provide.
Georgia said…
Kelly, thanks for expanding the bee tree list.
Anonymous said…
Where are the sources for this information?
Georgia | Local Ecologist said…
Hello. Thanks for your question. The post is based on a blog post written by Jim McCausland and published on the Sunset magazine blog, Fresh Dirt. Unfortunately, I no longer have the link to that blog post. However, a search of the internet yielded the following sources of information:

Trees for bees and other pollinators -
Trees with the Best Nectar & Pollen for Honeybees -
Top Trees that Attract Bees -

I hope this is helpful.
Anonymous said…
One of the best trees for high quality nectar and pollen is Tetradium daniellii (formerly Evodia daniellii), also called Korean Evodia and Bee Bee Tree. It blooms later than tulip poplar and black locust, providing good forage for honey bees later on in the season. It's highly rated by Peter Lindtner in his book "Garden Plants for Honey Bees".