Hymenopterans – a group of insects that includes wasps, ants and bees – are incredibly important components of most terrestrial ecosystems. They not only serve as important food sources for predators and hosts for parasites, many of them play important roles in the process of pollination.
And while all pollinators are important for the plants on which they feed, honeybees are among the most important from a human perspective, as they’re used to pollinate a number of very important fruit crops. But unfortunately, honeybees have been dying off at an alarming rate thanks to something called colony collapse disorder.
The root causes of colony collapse disorder are varied and complex, and scientists are still working to identify the most important factors. Pesticides likely play an important role as do parasites and diseases, but it is quite possible that food availability is also part of the problem. And while the average citizen can’t do much to combat the first three problems, food availability is something they can help change. All you have to do is plant a few trees that provide the nectar honeybees need.
Honeybees feed on a number of different nectar sources, but the following five are among their favorites:
1. Bee Bee Tree (Tetradium daniellii)
It isn’t clear whether the bee bee tree is named for its bee-attracting nectar, but it would certainly make sense if that were the case. The bee bee tree (and its close relatives, which all appear to be very popular among honeybees) hails from East Asia, reaches about 60 feet in height and prefers to grow in areas with plenty of sun exposure. They grow quite quickly and produce pretty white, yellow or pink flowers in mid- to late-summer.
2. American Basswood (Tilia americana)
The American basswood (or American linden, as it is sometimes called) is a relatively large deciduous tree, which typically reaches heights of 60 to 100 feet. It is one of America’s fastest growing hardwoods, so it is popular among homeowners who want to add large trees to their property as quickly as possible, but it still takes about 10 years to begin producing flowers. Basswoods produce small, delicate-looking whitish flowers in mid-summer.
3. Willows (Salix spp.)
Collectively, willows are some of the favorite food sources of bees. However, because willows typically bloom in the very early spring, bees are seldom able to feed on them to the extent they would like, as the low temperatures prevent the insects from flying. However, this is less of a problem in southern California than it is in other places. There are many popular willow species and cultivars available, and several will work well in our region. Just be sure to avoid planting them near sidewalks, homes or other structures, as they frequently produce problematic roots.
4. Maples (Acer spp.)
Maples produce relatively inconspicuous flowers (which vary in color from one species to the next), but bees seem to find them without much trouble. However, most maples bloom in the spring, so they often present some of the same challenges that willows do. Maples have plenty of other things going for them, but perhaps no characteristic is as famous as their fantastic fall foliage, which comes in red, orange and gold flavors, depending on the species and cultivar selected.
5. Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Tuliptrees are native to the southeastern United States, but they’ll grow in western locations that have sufficient soil moisture. They serve as one of the most important food sources for the bees living near them, but they require a very large planting space, as they are among the biggest trees in the country. Tuliptree flowers are quite pretty and resemble tulips (hence their colloquial name), but they are unfortunately limited to the upper canopy in most cases, so they’re difficult to appreciate.
If you’d like to help out the local honeybees and are interested in installing a few bee-friendly trees, contact your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants. We’ll send over one of our friendly and experienced arborists to assess your property and recommend a few of the best choices for the local conditions. With a bit of planning and a little effort, you can begin helping support the local honeybee population in no time.