beekeepers are often confused as to what honey plants and flowers they
should plant in order to
provide bee forage
for their bees. Too often they have the idea that a few extra pots of geraniums
couple of hollyhocks
will make a difference in
the honey crop. They fail to realize that plants suitable for bee
must be planted in high numbers before any
are seen in the amount of honey that is stored in the hive, and that
not all flowers are worked by bees.
why don't bees work certain flowers? Well, for a start, it is no use
planting red geraniums and hoping to attract bees to your garden
because bees cannot see red. On the other hand, bees are attracted to
blue, white, yellow, and purple colored flowers.
Different Flowers produce Different Honey
In addition, the kinds of flowers your plants will use to make honey
will affect the taste and color of the honey. The lightest colored
honey is very mild in taste.
Sweet clover, clover
will produce a light, mild honey
, and other citrus trees,
tupelo trees, wild sage, buckwheat, horse mint, basswood
and the tulip tree
will all produce a darker,
than those plants above, but will still be mild in taste.
The darkest honey
is produced from buckwheat
If you were just wanting to attract bees to your garden there are some
flowers and plants highly sought out by bees:
However, as a professional beekeeper, one has to look at honey plants
on a much bigger scale.
have made a practice of planting an acre or two of such
plants as buckwheat
that this will give them a regular fall feast to the honey gatherers.
It is true that buckwheat does yield nectar in tremendous amounts, but
an acre or two would be only a drop in the ocean for the average
One must realize that a colony
contains many thousands
of individuals, each of whom ranges over an extensive territory and
carries home only very small amount of honey-making material.
Any honey plants must be those that not only produce
quantities of nectar but which also occur in sufficient numbers to
provide the necessary bulk of nectar.
Comparatively few flowers fulfill
those two conditions although a great many serve to supply the bees
with moderate amounts of nectar and thus help to tide them over the
lean portions of the summer.
The following honey plants and flowers have been proven to produce some
of the best honey for beekeeping
and we hope that this article will be useful to you for the next honey
White Clover as Honey
has long been the
leading honey plant. At one time the yield from white clover probably
exceeded that from any other plant, but with changing conditions it has
become less common.
Formerly every pasture contained patches of this
clover so dense as to constitute almost a "pure stand," but with the
better understanding of crop rotation the old pastures have been broken
up and seeded to other crops.
As a result the white clover has been driven back to road sides, fence
corners and abandoned fields where it still thrives and still produces
limited amounts of its beautiful honey. The plant is not a native to
America, but was probably introduced from Europe or Western Asia very
early in the settlement of the country. It is claimed to be identical
with the "Shamrock" of Ireland although many Irishmen would dispute
The yield from white clover as a honey plant is often dependent upon
the weather conditions to a very great extent. Being a biennial it must
grow from the seed one season and bloom the next. Consequently, cool,
moist summers are favorable to the growth of new plants for the next
year; but if we have cool, moist weather during the blooming period the
secretion of nectar is retarded and the consequent honey crop is short.
On the other hand, warm weather, and particularly warm nights, during
the blooming period tends to promote nectar secretion and the crop may
be expected to be large in proportion. Such secretion, however, may be
cut off entirely if the weather is too hot and dry, for under these
conditions the period of bloom is very short, the plants dry up and die
and the white clover honey flow is over for another year.
All of these factors have a very important bearing on the management of
the apiary and show how necessary it is that the beekeeper have his
colonies ready to gather the white clover nectar promptly. Sometimes
the flow will last for weeks and again it may be a matter of a few days
and the beekeeper who is not ready for it when it comes will fail to
reap any profit.
The same thing is true, in a lesser degree perhaps, with most other
honey plants. It is important that the beekeeper know from what plants
his surplus is most liable to come from and then be prepared to secure
that surplus promptly when the time comes.
Sweet Clover as Honey
The introduction of sweet clover
an European weed, into the white clover sections has had something to
do with the crops from the older plant. Both bloom at about the same
time and as a result the fine white clover honey is contaminated with
the greenish colored product of the sweet clover. While the latter is
by no means a bad honey it does not rank with the white clover and the
mixture has been the means of practically eliminating the older honey
from the market.
Sweet clover, when mixed with white clover honey, causes this
unpleasant sensation in a minor degree and this is one of the reasons
why I have never been friendly to the introduction of this new plant.
Each year it is more and more difficult for me to secure honey for my
own use — I have long since given up trying to produce it in my own
When pure white clover honey was a standard product one could count on
a crop of palatable comb every year, but then that was the childhood
Alsike Clover as Honey
planted as a honey plant to take the place of the red clovers usually
grown for that purpose. In the sections where it will grow it should be
more widely planted as it produces a better quality of hay and often a
larger quantity than does the red clover.
It is grown in the same way as red clover and in soils adapted to its
culture will live from year to year and about as long as the red. On
dry soils it does not succeed and soon "runs out" leaving the field to
The honey produced is very similar to that from white clover, and
probably many consumers will fail to distinguish one from the other. It
has become an important honey plant in many sections and should become
still more important each year.
Ordinary red clover yields large amounts of nectar. Perhaps I should
say it secretes large amounts of nectar because the flower tubes are so
deep that the bees cannot reach the nectar content.
Consequently we lose tremendous amounts of honey every season simply
because the bees are not built to retrieve the nectar successfully from
the red clover. However, in hot dry weather, the flowers of the red
clover are so stunted in size that the bees appear to be able to reach
the nectar under these conditions.
Crimson Clover as Honey
plant of value, has been considered a very important honey-yielding
plant. It is planted late in summer and produces flowers early the next
The bloom comes between the fruit bloom and that of white clover and
for this reason is rather important in white clover sections.
Ordinarily there is a long gap between fruit bloom and clover which
does not supply the bees with as much forage as they should have in
order to enable them to build up their colonies.
With more general planting of crimson clover in the white clover
districts this gap would be effectively bridged and while a great
increase in the crop might not be expected we would at least find our
bees in better position to give an account of themselves during the
heavy white clover flow.
Alfalfa as Honey Plants
clover, has become a great factor in honey production. The honey from
it is not quite so fine as the best white clover honey, but it ranks
near the top in the matter of quality and always finds a ready market.
It should be remembered that alfalfa is usually cut for hay just as it
comes in bloom and as a result the large hay ranches do not supply the
bee pasturage that might be expected. It is only where the plant is
allowed to ripen its seed that great returns are obtained and in these
sections apiary locations are often at a premium — so eagerly are they
(Basswood) and Sourwood as Honey Plants
Among American native plants none ranks higher than the American linden
white clover the
yield from basswood is not liable to be interrupted by rains.
The flowers of this tree are pendant and hard dashing rains do not
remove the secreted nectar at the base of the petals. Like all other
flowers, however, it yields most nectar during periods of warm nights.
The tree is so useful in honey production that the beekeeper can well
afford to take the time to plant it along his roads and around his
home. It makes an admirable shade tree, blooms at an early age, and as
it grows older becomes an important pasturage factor in the life of the
Ten trees, twenty years old, ought to supply a colony of bees with
enough nectar to enable them to store a considerable surplus of honey
and while some of us may not be here twenty years hence it is pretty
certain that someone else may and it is possible too that "someone
else" may want to keep bees.
However, there are also those who will say that their top tree for
feeding bees is the sourwood tree,
known as the sorrel tree
In the USA it is found in the foothills of the Piedmont to elevations
of 3,000 ft. The sourwood try has been used medicinally for
centuries. The leaves, although tart in taste will quench your thirst
if there is not water about and has not only been used a diuretic but
also the leaves can be used to give off a black dye for wool dyeing.
However, it is in early July when the tree bears its waxy-white
blossoms that bring out the bees in full force that is of interest to
us here. Sourwood honey is thick and yellow in color and well sought
after. So well sought after in fact, that Sourwood honey is placed on
the same status level for medicinal properties as Manuku honey from New
Poplar as Honey Plants
Another native American tree
that yields large amounts of honey was the
or yellow poplar
The great cup-shaped
flowers sometimes contain an abundance of nectar from which the bees
make a strong dark honey, unsuited for human food but of value in brood
In some parts of America the smooth or black
yields tremendous quantities of honey. It is a plant
dry hillsides and is often found in those portions of the low hill
country where clover is scarce and where the native basswood has mostly
been cut out. In such situations it sometimes gives the beekeeper a
surplus in years when all other plants fail to make a showing.
Fireweed as Honey Plants
also known as Great
in Canada, and Rosebay Willow Herb
in the UK,
that pink flowered wanderer that takes possession as quickly as the
fire has made a place for it. The tall stalks, sometimes reaching a
height of six feet, are topped with a duster of bloom that grows with
the season and unfolds a succession of flowers from July until frost.
The honey that the bees obtain from the fireweed is nearly as fine as
that from white clover.
Wild Raspberry as Honey
The wild raspberry
a very large share of a honey crop. The drooping bloom which opens in
early summer (late May or early June) resembles the linden in that the
nectar is not easily washed out by rain. This drooping character of the
bloom of these two important honey plants may account for the fact that
both of them are reliable yielders practically every year.
The raspberry honey is white in color and has a delightful flavor that
easily places it commercially with white clover — the inevitable
standard of excellence among all men who produce honey.
In many parts of the country the "fall flow" is the important source of
the commercial honey crop. In these sections the beekeeper must manage
his colonies in such a way as to have them at their maximum strength
just at the time when this flow is ready to be harvested. In such an
area it would be crazy to build up strong colonies in the spring and
perhaps be forced to feed them over the hot weather — during which
there is nearly always a scarcity of bloom.
Buckwheat as Honey
, cultivated in some places
for its grain
and in other places
as a cover crop, produces a dark honey with a very characteristic
flavor. It is enjoyed by many who have acquired a taste for it, but for
those familiar with white clover honey, the product of the buckwheat
offers small appeal.
To many folk buckwheat honey is a standard for comparison just as white
clover is for others. The two honeys do not resemble each other in the
least and those used to to buckwheat would find the light and
delicately flavored clover rather insipid.
While the buckwheat yields tremendous amounts of nectar one shouldn't
plant it with the sole aim of securing the honey crop. In places where
it is grown for grain the beekeepers reap the incidental harvest of the
honey. This process might easily be reversed by planting the grain for
the benefit of the bees and considering the grain as incidental to the
Heartease as Honey
Related to the buckwheat is heartsease
a member of the smartweed family. It grows in swamps and in wet places
near stream banks. Often it occurs to such an extent that profitable
yields are obtained and in a few locations tremendous surplus has been
recorded. The honey is light amber in color, stronger than clover but
still mild enough to find a ready market. A great variation in the
honey is liable to occur because there are several varieties of the
plant and other honey is liable to be mixed with it.
Asters, Goldenrod and
Sunflowers as Honey Plants
many kinds, goldenrod
and numerous sorts of "wild
" supply the bulk of
the fall honey. Many of these plants live in low wet places and marshes
and have long been a favorite location for commercial beekeepers. With
such a wealth of flora to draw upon it is to be expected that there
will be a blend from many flowers.
For this reason we seldom ever find samples of "pure" aster, goldenrod
or sunflower honey. All of them furnish a dark colored product, strong
in flavor and not to be compared with the beautiful white honey from
other plants. However, this dark honey finds a market and often the
quotations are but little below those for clover.
Speaking of dark honey reminds me that a word should be said about
Frequently we find in the hives a dark strong substance that appears to
be honey but that obviously is not. The bees gather it and store it
exactly as they would the product from the flowers but they get it from
aphids who exude this substance.
Honey dew is nothing more or less than an excretion from the "honey
tubes" of the aphids that feed on many plants. Some seasons the bees
will gather tremendous quantities of this stuff and load up their
storage space pretty liberally. It serves them well for brood rearings
in the spring, but when it is gathered late in summer and used as
winter food it often causes serious damage.
Spring Blooming Honey Plants for Bee Forage
As quick check, here are some of the top plants honey
bees love that flower in spring:
- red bud
- fruit trees
- tulip tree
These are the very early blooming plants and trees that appear in
Practically none of these plants produces surplus, but many of them are
valuable because of the fact that they enable the colonies to increase
in strength in time for the later flowers.
The earliest blooming plants furnish practically no nectar but they do
furnish what is quite as important to the bee, and that is pollen. Some
of them, like the hazel
furnish pollen in tremendous quantities. Following the hazel bloom, the pussy willow
supply pollen in almost
source of "spring greens," cursed by the lovers of trim lawns,
furnishes pollen in abundance and often at a time when the bees are
needing this adjunct to their nursery menu. Without pollen brood
rearing in the hive would have to cease so it is quite as important
that the bees have access to it as that they later have access to a
source of nectar.
The bloom on the fruit
is by far the most important source of the early spring honey and some
years it is so lavish that the bees store more than they will need. We
have often been able to remove a small surplus of pure apple honey and
found it to be of good quality though a trifle darker than the best
Usually it is mixed with the honey from plums, peaches and other tree
fruits and the resulting blend, is not as good as pure apple.
So important is the fruit bloom to the beekeeper that in sections where
he has been depending upon it he must make other provisions in years of
failure. If the trees fail to bloom or if the bloom is killed by cold,
it is almost a certainty that the bees will have to be fed before the
early summer flowers arrive.
and red maple
, apple blossom
, black cherry blossom
are all good
spring bee forage.
Summer Blooming Honey Plants for Bee Forage
Here are some of the top plants honey bees love that
flower in summer:
- wild sweet clover
- horse mint
Summer time bee food comes in the form of many honey plants. Not as
many as found during spring, but certainly more than can be found in
Milkweed or silkweed
sometimes called are worked by bees but with disastrous consequences as
the bees often get stuck to this flower and die in the process.
during this time.
Although red clover
worked by bees the nectar is difficult to get to by the bees, unlike
the sweet or white clover. Getting the nectar out of red clover is hard
work because the tube of the corolla is longer and the bee appears to
have difficulty in reaching it. If white
is presented, it is preferred by the bees.
one of the best bee
plants around during this time of the year. It produces a lot of nectar
for the bees every alternate year, so cannot be relied on to produce
all the food the bees will need year, after year. Therefore, by
planting the clovers as well, this will help to fill the gap.
(Nepeta Cataria,) Motherwort
(Leonurus Cardiaca,) and
bloom around the middle of June, and like the Raspberry
, the bees
visit them at
hours and in nearly all kinds of weather. Catnip has along blooming
period, sometimes up to 12 weeks, where the others will only blossom
from 4-6 weeks.
Vulgare,) often found in pastures also contains some honey.
The flower is compound, and each little floret contains particles so
minute, that the task of obtaining a load is
very tedious. It is only visited when the more copious honey-yielding
flowers and plants are scarce. It has a long flowering season from May
Vulgaris,) is an all-time favorite of bees as honey plants, and the Bush honeysuckle
is another particular favorite.
Other summer plants for bees during this time are chicory
, birdsfoot trefoil
, Joe Pye weed
, purple loosestrife
, New England aster
, goldenrod and spotted knapweed
Fall / Autumn Blooming Honey Plants for Bee Forage
Here are some of the top plants honey bees love that
flower in the fall:
New England aster
- spider flower
- fireweed (rosebay willow herb)
, spotted knapweed
Joe Pye weed
from summer will
continue to bloom into autumn or fall and feed your bees.
This is the
time when the goldenrod comes into its own.
Joe Pye Weed above
Sometimes, earlier in the season, there is not much nectar coming from
and bees will choose other honey plants to get the nectar from.
the fall, the goldenrod is ripe for the picking and the bees will work
the goldenrod more during late summer and the fall, than the earlier
Honey Plants you Should Not
Keep for Beekeeping
bee plants are not good for honey making as the honey it produces can
cause severe illness resulting in abdominal pains, nausea, headaches
and even vomitting. This is what is known as poisonous
Plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, monk's hood
contain a glucoside of andromedotoxin. Nectar from
and the marsh tea plant
will also give
you poisonous honey.
plants that are known to be poisonous to man such as hemlock,
henbane and foxglove are perfectly safe for nectar collection and honey
in doubt as to where the nectar has come from you will need to heat
treat your honey to destroy the toxins, but not to the point where you
destroy the organoleptic properties. Heating
the honey to 47
degrees C. at a pressure of 67 mm should do it.
The Importance of Honey Plants
Altogether there is a rather close partnership between the bee and the
flower. Each is dependent upon the other to a very great extent — that
sort of dependence which is extremely common in many of nature's works.
The beekeeper should understand this dependence as no one can
successfully manage bees unless he also knows something of the flowers
which supply the basis for his work.
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