Better habitat for bees

In general, herbs and garden perennials are good for bees while annual bedding plants are not as attrac­tive to them.

April 13, 2016 - Author: , MSU ; , Rebecca Finneran and , ; , MSU IPM; Paula M. Shrewsbury, Univ. of Maryland Dept. of Entomology; and Daniel A. Herms, The Ohio State Univ. Dept. of Entomology

Pipevine swallowtail butterfly.

Better habitat for bees

Annuals attractive to bees

In general, herbs and garden perennials are good for bees while annual bedding plants are not as attrac­tive to them. Annual flowers like petunias are readily available at the garden center, but most have been bred for showy flowers or vigorous growth and do not produce enough pollen and nectar to be good food plants for bees or butterflies. Below are some annuals that may be more difficult to find, but are good food plants for pollinators. Please note that some of these, like garden heliotrope, lantana and pentas, are con­sidered annuals in northern states but are perennials in more southern states.

Annuals attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Ageratum

Ageratum houstonianum

Anise-scented sage

Salvia guaranitica

Aster

Callistephus chinensis

Black-eyed susan or gloriosa daisy

Rudbeckia hirta

Blue salvia (mealycup sage)

Salvia farinacea

Borage or starflower

Borago officinalis

Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Clary sage

Salvia sclarea (biennial)

Common lantana

Lantana camara

Common sunflower

Helianthus annuus

Cornflower

Centaurea cyanus

Cosmos

Cosmos bipinnatus

Dahlia (open types)

Dahlia cv.

Garden heliotrope

Heliotrope arborescens

Mignonette

Resedaodorata

Pentas

Pentas spp.

Pineapple sage

Salvia elegans

Popcorn plant

Cassia didymobotrya

Snapdragon

Antirrhinum majus

Spider flower

Cleome spp.

Sweet William (biennial in south­ern parts of north central region)

Dianthus barbatus

Sweet alyssum

Lobularia maritime

Tithonia

Tithonia rotundifolia

Vervain

Verbena bonariensis

Zinnia

Zinnia elegans

 

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Herbaceous perennials attractive to bees

Researchers have identified that perennial flowers tend to be far more attractive to bees than annuals. Many different types of perennials are good for bees, from showy flowers to herbs. Herb gardens are an excellent resource for bees because they flower over a long period of time, and herbs grow fairly large and produce lots of flowers. The perennials and herbs listed below can be purchased from nurseries and garden centers in the North Central United States.

Because species and cultivars vary in cold-hardiness, be sure to check the acceptable hardiness zones list­ed on the plant label and match it to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone where you live. Some of the plants listed below are also available as seeds in commercial “wildflower” mixes. If you are looking for native wildflower seed, a good source of information is the Xerces Society, which gives a list of plants and a supplier for each region.

Herbaceous perennials attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Anise hyssop

Agastache foeniculum

Aromatic aster

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae – ‘Purple Done’

Astilbe, false spirea

Astilbe spp.

Basil, sweet basil (annual)

Ocimum basilicum

Bee balm

Monarda spp.

Bellflower

Campanula spp.

Betony

Stachys monieri

Bigleaf ligularia

Ligularia dentate

Black-eyed Susan, coneflower

Rudbeckia spp.

Blanket flower

Gaillardia

Blazing star

Liatris spicata

Butterfly bush

Buddleja or Buddleia spp.

Butterfly weed

Asclepias tuberosa

Calamint

Calamintha nepeta

Carolina lupine

Thermopsis villosa

Catmint

Nepeta spp.

Chrysanthemum (open types)

Chrysanthemum

Chocolate flower

Berlandiera lyrata

Clematis

Clematis spp.

Common poppy, red poppy

Papaver rhoeas

Common yarrow

Achillea millefolium

Coral bells

Heuchera spp.

Cornflower

Centaurea spp.

Crown vetch (ground cover)

Securigera (= Coronilla) varia

Cut-leaf mallow

Malva alcea

(various names)

Eryngium spp.

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare

Foxglove or beardtongues

Penstemon spp.

Garden speedwell

Veronica longifolia

Globe thistle

Echinops ritro

Hardy geranium, blue cranesbill

Geranium ibericum x (Geranium himalayense)

Hosta

Hosta spp.

Hyssop (naturalized in North America)

Hyssopus officinalis

Inula, Himalayan elecampane

Inula royleana

Japanese anemone

Anemone hupehensis ‘Robutissima’

Large-leaved aster

Eurybia macrophylla

Lavender

Lavandula

Lemon balm

Melissa officinalis

Leucanthemella

Leucanthemella serotine

Lupine

Lupinus spp.

Mints

Mentha spp.

Narrow-leaved foxtail lily

Eremurus stenophyllus

New England aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Ornamental onion, garlic, chives, leek, scallion

Allium spp., including Allium ‘mellenium’ and ‘christophii’

Oregano

Origanum vulgare

Pachysandra

Pachysandra terminalis

Parasol whitetop

Doellingeria umbellate

Pentas

Pentas spp.

Peony

Paeonia spp.

Pincushion flower

Scabiosa caucasica

Purple burkheya

Berkheya purpurea

Purple coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

Russian sage

Perovskia atriplicifolia

Salvia

Salvia ‘Victoria blue’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Black and Blue’, others

Sea holly

Eryngium maritimum

Sedum

Sedum spp.

Sedum, stonecrop

Hylotelephium spectabile and telephium and cvs.

Snakeroot

Cimicifuga famose

Sneezeweed

Helenium

Stiff-leaved aster

Ionactus linariifolius

Stokes aster

Stokesia laevis

Sunflower

Helianthus

Swamp milkweed

Asclepias incarnata

Sweet alyssum

Lobularia maritima

Thyme

Thymus spp.

White wood aster

Eurybia divarcata

Anise hyssop. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension

Anise hyssop

Butterfly weed. Photo: Erwin Elsner, MSU Extension.

Butterfly weed

Butterfly bush. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension.

Butterfly bush

Bee balm. Photo: Erwin Elsner, 2016.

Bee balm

Lupine. Photo: Erwin Elsner, 2016.

Lupine

Sunflower. Photo: Diane Brown, 2016.

Sunflower

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Shrubs attractive to bees

Flowering shrubs can be an excellent food source for bees because they tend to grow larger than herbaceous perennials, and therefore produce a larger number of flowers. Some species, like Rosa rugosa, bloom all summer.
 

Shrubs attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Black chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa

Bottlebrush buckeye

Aesculus parviflora

Buttonbush

Cephalanthus occidentalis

Common witch-hazel

Hamamelis virginiana

Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster

Dwarf fothergilla

Fothergilla gardenia

Eastern ninebark

Physocarpos opulifolius

Elderberry

Sambucus spp.

Holly: American, box-leaved, Merserve hybrid, winterberry

Ilex spp.

Mockorange

Philadelphus coronarius

Potentilla (bush cinquefoil)

Potentilla fruiticosa

Privet

Ligustrum vulgare

Raspberry, blackberries

Rubus spp.

Silky, gray, redosier dogwoods

Cornus spp.

Spicebush

Lindera benzoin

Spirea

Spiraea spp.

Sumacs

Rhus spp.

Summersweet, sweet pepperbush

Clethra alnifolia

Viburnums

Viburnum spp.

Wild prairie rose

Rosa arkansana

(Mach and Potter 2016)

 
 
Buttonbush. Photo: John D. Byrd, Mississippi State Univ., Bugwood.org

Buttonbush

Elderberry. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension.

Elderberry

Bee on fragrant sumac. Photo: Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agric. Research Service, Bugwood.org.

A bee visits fragrant sumac, Rhus Aromatica.

Trees attractive to bees

Flowering trees are critical to providing an ample food source for bees because of their large size and thou­sands of flowers. A blooming linden or black locust produces so much pollen and nectar that it dwarfs the amount provided by most garden flowers in compari­son. However, most trees only bloom for two to three weeks, so a succession of trees that bloom from early spring through summer is very helpful to bees. Trees in the North Central United States that are frequently mentioned as good food plants for bees are listed in the following table.

Trees attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Bloom

Eastern redbud

Cercis canadensis

April

Red maple

Acer rubrum

April

Alternate-leaved, pagoda or green osier dogwood

Cornus alternifolia

May

Black tupelo, blackgum

Nyssa sylvatica

May

Cherry, peach, plum, almond

Prunus spp. (many)

May

Crabapple, apple

Malus spp. (many)

May

Hawthorn

Crataegus spp. (many)

May

Serviceberry

Amelanchier spp.

May

Willow

Salix spp.

May

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Bloom

Black locust

Robinia pseudoacacia

Late May-early June

Catalpa

Catalpa speciosa

June

Linden, basswood

Tilia spp.

June

Tulip-tree

Liriodendron tulipifera

June

Amur maackia

Maackia amurensis

July-August

Bee-bee tree

Tetradium (Evodia) daniellii

July-August

Japanese sophora, Japanese pagoda

Sophora japonica

July-September

Seven sons tree

Heptacodium miconioides

August-September

Source: Lovell 1926, Pellet 1947, Oertel 1980, Tew 2006, Mader et al. 2011, Mach and Potter 2016

Catalpa. Photo: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Catalpa

Basswood. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension.

Basswood

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Wind-pollinated trees attractive to bees

Wind-pollinated trees do not produce nectar, but bees may take advantage of them as an abundant source of pollen. Pines, spruces and nearly all gymnosperms are not usually visited by bees unless it is to gather sap used for propolis, a sticky substance used to fill crevices and seal hives. However, several genera of wind-pollinated angiosperms are routinely visited by bees to collect pollen. The most frequently visited wind-pollinated trees are listed below. Red maple and willow are listed in both tables because they are wind-pollinated trees that are also considered import­ant pollen or nectar sources for bees. Pollen from the wind-pollinated trees may be collected by bees because of a favorable nutritional value, the large amount of pollen produced, or because it is available at times when other food sources are scarce.

Wind-pollinated trees attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

Attractiveness to bees1

Ash

Fraxinus spp.

Somewhat attractive

Birch

Betula spp.

Somewhat attractive

Elm

Ulmus spp.

Very attractive

Hickory

Carya spp.

Somewhat attractive

Oak

Quercus spp.

Very attractive

Poplar

Populus spp.

Very attractive

Maple

Acer spp.

Highly attractive

Willow

Salix spp.

Highly attractive

Source: Kraemer and Favi. 2005, MacIvor et al. 2014, Oertel 1980
1Level of attractiveness in this table is rated by number of reports of bees using pollen, level of bee activity, diversity of bee species observed and amount of pollen found in hives or nests.

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Wildflowers attractive to bees

Wildflower mixes often contain seed of several of the attractive perennials listed above. A good source for native wildflower seed is the Xerces Society, which gives a list of plants and a supplier for each region. Another list of native plants and wildflowersavailable from nurseries and seed companies is maintained by the American Horticultural Society, and is organized by state. MSU Extension publication E2973, “Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants,” provides photos and bloom time for many of the native flowers listed below. This publication is available for purchase the MSU Extension Bookstore. Wildflowers described in E2973 are marked with an asterisk (*) in the following table.

Wildflowers attractive to bees

Common name

Genus species (scientific name)

American vervain, blue vervain

Verbena hastata*

Aromatic aster

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium*

Canadian milkvetch

Astragalus canadensis*

Clover

Melilotus spp.

Clover

Trifolium spp.

Coneflower

Ratibida columnifera*

Culver’s root

Veronicastrum virginicum*

Cup plant

Silphium perfoliatum*

Golden alexanders

Zizia aurea*

Goldenrod

Oligoneuron spp.

Goldenrod

Solidago speciosa

Great blue lobelia

Lobelia siphilitica

Horsemint, spotted beebalm

Monarda punctata*

Joe-Pye weed

Eupatorium fistulosum*

Late figwort

Scrophularia marilandica*

Meadowsweet (shrub)

Spirea alba*

Missouri ironweed

Vernonia missurica*

Mountain mints

Pycanthemum spp.*

Native milkweeds

Asclepias spp.*

Naturalized asters

Aster spp.

Nodding wild onion

Allium cernuum*

Obedient plant, false dragonhead

Physostegia virginiana*

Pale Indian plantain

Cacalia atriplicifolia*

Penstemon, hairy beardtongue

Penstemon hirsutus*

Prairie blazing star

Liatris pycnostachya

Rattlesnake master, eryngo

Eryngium spp.

Riddell’s goldenrod

Solidago riddellii*

Rough blazing star

Liatris aspera

Rough oxeye, false sunflower

Heliopsis helianthoides

Showy milkweed

Asclepias speciosa

Smooth aster

Aster laevis*

Thimbleweed herba­ceous perennial

Anemone cylindrica*

White wild indigo, false indigo

Baptisia alba

Wild quinine, American feverfew

Parthenium integrifolium

Yellow coneflower

Ratibida pinnata*

Yellow giant hyssop

Agastache nepetoides*

Weeds

Chickweed

Stellaria media

Clover

Trifolium spp.

Dandelion

Taraxacum officiniale

Knapweed (feral)

Centaurea montana

Smartweed

Polygonum sp.

*Wildflowers known to attract beneficial insects and described in MSUE publication E2973.

Goldenrod. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension

Goldenrod

Joe-Pye weed. Photo: Diane Brown, MSU Extension

Joe-Pye weed

Tags: attracting butterflies, attracting pollinators, bees, best plants for bees, best shrubs for bees, best trees for bees, better habitat for bees, dave smitley, msu extension, pollinator, protecting pollinators in urban landscapes


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