A couple of years ago, a beekeeper friend of mine from Ohio recommended the book, Garden Plants for Honey Bees, Wicwas Press (October 1, 2014), by Dr. Peter Lindtner. Fortunately for me, I received the book in early January (2015) when my work can be slow. I was able to spend an appreciable amount of time with the book. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. No, it’s not your average garden book, there were no prose, no unrealistic pictures that I, myself, style for photographers, and certainly no misinformation. It was all about bees and the amount of pollen and nectar they obtain from various plants. Read on, the information is fascinating.
Garden Plants for Honey Bees is an index of a study Peter Lindtner performed at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. In short, to summarize his work, Dr. Lindtner measured the amount of pollen and nectar honey bees collected while foraging by collecting the bees from specific plants and measuring the food collected with an electron microscope. Dr. Lindtner then ranked each the pollen and nectar value from each flower.
Nature made it easy for this research. Did you know, Honey Bees forage in flower sweeps. Each trip visiting one flower type. This is one of the reasons to design floral beds with a single species, in blocks of 3-4 feet square. And what you will soon learn is, not all flowers are created equal.
In reading this book, I quickly saw its importance, but first I need to mention some caveats. None of these take away from the book; the caveats only help the Triangle area make it more applicable to us.
- The book is indexed by scientific name only, not common name. Unless you’re fluent in botanical Latin, you’ll need to recognize the plants by the pictures.
- The pollen and nectar study was by month. This makes sense if you are trying to provide plants to cover most of the year. For the Triangle area, we need to adjust about two weeks. If it’s blooming in PA in March, we are likely to see it in February.
- The ranking is 0 to 5, but these aren’t evenly distributed. For example, there is only one plant ranked zero for pollen and zero for nectar, and one plant ranked five for both. I often muse the scale should have been logarithmic since a two or three ranking are very worthy plants. By the way, Forsythia is ranked zero for both pollen and nectar, and the Bee Bee tree, also known as Korean evodia (Evodia daniellii syn. Tetradium daniellii) is ranked five for both; and it’s very invasive for us. We don’t want this tree in our garden at home.
Other useful information provided in the book in addition to the months flowering, is about the plants themselves—trees and shrubs, evergreen or deciduous, as well as annual or perennial.
Keep in mind, just as the European honey bee isn’t native to the US, neither are the vast majority of the highest ranking pollen and nectar plants. Here are a few native choices for trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.
Top Three Ranked Native Trees:
Franklinia alatamaha, Franklin tree
Acer rubrum, Red Maple
Magnolia grandiflora, Southern magnolia
Top Three Ranked Shrubs:
Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’, Inkberry holly
Celastrus scandens, American bittersweet
Diervilla sessilifolia, Southern bush honeysuckle
Top Three Ranked Perennials:
Helianthus maximiliani, Maximilian Sunflower
Actinomeris alternifolia, Windstem
Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly weed
Top Three Ranked Annuals
Helianthus annuus, Sunflower
Salvia coccinea, Texas Sage
Zea mays, Corn
For a complete listing of Dr. Lindtner’s findings, go to www.beebetter.info and click on the right-hand side resource guide for bees.