Honey bee plants for acid soils

Devil's bit scabious

Below is a list of honey bee plants that do well on acid soils.

Trees and shrubs

Norway maple

Norway maple

Acers   All acers produce pollen but some won’t produce nectar in the UK.  Flowering time is generally April to May.

Bilberry or whortleberry Vaccinum myrtillus.  Produces nectar and pollen in April, May and June.  Related to the American blueberry, these aren’t cultivated but can be used to make preserves.  They are too acidic to eat raw!

Cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus  Good nectar and pollen through spring with the bonus that the undersides of young leaves have nectar even when it is not in flower. Handy when nectar is scarce.  Not everyone’s favourite look though.

Daphne Daphne odora, D. mezereum, D. bholua  Daphnes are often chosen for their intoxicating scent and as they flower in mid-winter are often grown near the house.  They can offer both nectar and pollen to honey bees when temperatures are clement enough for them to fly.

Gorse

Gorse

Gorse Ulex europaeus, U. minor.   From the legume (pea) family, gorse provides excellent pollen but not much if any nectar.  The main flowering period for common gorse (U. europaeus) is April but it you can see some flower at any time of year!

Heather

Heather

Heather and heaths   The other stalwart (with gorse) honey bee plant  is heather.  Calluna vulgaris, the traditional heather honey, and flowers between July and November.  Erica carnea is the ‘winter heath’.  By selecting differnet cultivars the flowering period can be extended from December to April.  This species can survive in alkaline conditions but is happiest in a more acidic environment.  Erica cinerea (bell heather), E. tetralix (cross-leaved heath) and E. vagans (Cornish heath) flower between June and November.  All are excellent honey bee plants it’s just a question of overcoming their seventies image.  Check out this contemporary design with them.

Witch hazel Hamamelis mollis    Witch hazels offer bees good early pollen (no nectar) in winter when little else is available.  Flowering on bare wood, witch hazel tassel petals can range from yellow to a rich red.  Leaves turn similar shades in autumn but their summer interest is limited and they can take up a fair amount of space.  Their spicy fragrance is an incentive to venture out on a winter’s day.  For more details on different varieties (colour, flowering time) visit the RHS website https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=368 and see Mary Keen’s article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/9024795/The-allure-of-witch-hazel-flowers.html  The Sir Harold Hilliers gardens in Romsey holds a national collection of witch hazels, well worth a visit in January and February.

Magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata

Magnolia  Magnolia spp. Like witch hazel, magnolias offer pollen (though not quite as much) but no nectar, and flower in early spring.  There are many varieties of Magnolia.  For more information see the RHS Plant Finder.

 

 

 

Rhododendron

Rhododendron and Azaleas  Rhododendrons have a bad press in two respects – firstly the species R. ponticum is having to be removed from the countryside and secondly the nectar can become poisonous honey. There are tales of people being poisoned by eating honey. Some, but not all, rhododendrons and azaleas contain the neurotoxin, grayanotoxin, and ancient literature tells of armies being floored for several days after collecting the wild honeycomb. In certain areas honey isn’t used in the spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas are flowering.  As with all potential poisons it’s a question of dose as Deepak discovers in Hunting mad honey film.   Enjoy!

Strawberry tree

Strawberry tree

Strawberry tree  Arbutus unedo   Another from the heather (Ericaceae) family with the characteristic flowers, in white, offering both nectar and pollen from October to December.  The strawberry-like fruits come from last year’s flowers and the leaves are  shiny evergreen.  The tree comes from the Mediterranean and so needs as much sun as you can offer and to avoid a frost pocket.

 

 

Wintergreen   Gaultheria spp.   Evergreen shrub from the same family as heather with similar bell shaped flowers in May/June.  Pollen only.

Perennials

Gentians  There are several varieties of summer flowering gentians with their characteristic cobalt blue flowers.  Nectar and pollen offered to foraging bees.

Lithospermum

Lithospermum

Lithospermum syn. Lithodora  Another brilliant blue flower which is great for bees.  Flowers between April and July.

Himalayan poppy  Meconopsis betonicifolia   Flowers in June and July but provides nectar and pollen only in warm temperatures.  Not the easiest to grow by all accounts.
Meadow rue  Thalictrum spp. I’m a fan of Thalictrums so it is with regret that I tell you they only offer pollen for honey bees.  There are several interesting varieties flowering at different times during the summer.  My favourite is delicate Thalictrum delavayi.
Wake robin  Trillium spp.   I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of this beautiful spring bulb and although it is listed by Howes as a honey bee plant he doesn’t say whether it offers nectar, pollen or both.  This is one I’d be buying in bulk if my garden was on an acid soil!

Wild flowers

Yarrow  Achillea millefolium  Nectar only  Season can be extended from May – Sept by using different varieties

Betony  Betonica officinalis or Stachys officinalis  May – June  Nectar and pollen

Knapweed  Centaurea nigra June – Sept  Good Nectar and pollen

Ox-eye daisy  Leucanthemum vulgare/Chrysanthemum leucanthemum  May – Sept Nectar and pollen

Birdsfoot trefoil

Birdsfoot trefoil

Birdsfoot trefoil  Lotus corniculatus  June – Sept Good Nectar and pollen

Plaintain  Plantago spp. May Nectar and pollen

Buttercup  Ranunculus acris, Ranunculus bulbosus   Various flowering times depending on species  Nectar and pollen

Lesser celandine  Ranunculus ficaria  Feb – May Nectar and pollen

Yellow rattle  Rhinanthus minor  June/July  Nectar only

 

Hawkbit spp.  Leontodon autumnalis or Scorzoneroides autumnalis – June – Sept Nectar and pollen

Devil's bit scabious

Devil’s bit scabious

Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis  Annual June – Oct Nectar and pollen

Wood sage  Teucrium scorodonia  July/Aug Nectar and pollen

 

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