With our attention turned to pandemics and politics, it’s easy to overlook the plight of our oft-misunderstood natural allies. For years we wasted time fearing bees when we should have been fostering our relationship. More so than bastions of sting, the bees are the signature species for pollination, and plants and animals alike depend precariously upon their success.
Unfortunately, with the spread of urbanization and monoculture revolution in food production, the bees have suffered greatly. The natural order upon which they relied—plenty of flowering plants that provide blooms throughout the year—has been distorted. Consequently, Apis species have struggled mightily of late, so our job has become to reinstitute an ecosystem that can support them.
The backbone of land-based, plant-based ecosystems is the forest, and forests, of course, consist of trees. So, why not plant the bees’ favorite trees?
The Malus, or apple, family of trees includes orchard apples and wild apples, aka crabapples. Apple trees are native to the Northern Hemisphere and thrive in temperate climates, right in the wheelhouse of the US. They rely on bees for pollination, thus have already developed a good rapport with our subject.
2. Stone Fruit
The Prunus, or stone fruit, family of trees is another classic collection of orchard trees for the temperate climate. This group accounts for cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, almonds, and apricots. The beautiful flowers that precede the delicious fruits on these trees provide great pollen fodder for foraging bees.
Linden trees have several aliases: basswood, lime (They are not the citrus producers), and the Tilia genus. For the most part, these are large deciduous trees, and different species can be used for woodworking, edible leaves, medicinal bark, and perfume. Regardless, bees love the flowers of linden trees.
Sourwood trees, sometimes called sorrel trees, are native to the eastern US, particularly Appalachia. They are generally small, spindly trees that grow in the understory with trunks that wiggle, twist, and lean towards sunlight. They are regarded as great trees for producing honey. Whether or not one eats honey, the takeaway here is that bees love them.
Recognized for extraordinarily beautiful (and ironically) pink flowers in the early spring, redbud trees are another forest tree common in North America, from Canada to Florida and North Carolina to California. Aside from being notably attractive, those early pink blooms provide a good source of pollen for bees when not much else is blooming.
Black locust trees are sometimes begrudged for spreading a little too readily, and they are considered invasive in some states. However, there isn’t a better fencepost or firewood that grows in the US. What’s more is that they put beautiful (and edible) flowers every spring that bees will dance for.
When planting anything in the yard, if there is an option that is edible, why wouldn’t we use it? Serviceberries can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. They put out delicious berries that resemble blueberries, and they grow just about anywhere in the United States. Birds (and humans) love the berries, and bees love the blooms.
Sometimes called tulip poplars, tulip trees are large, deciduous trees in the same fold as magnolias. They are respected for being rapid growers, and they can reach over 100 feet tall. (Read: Not suitable for every lawn.) They also put out pretty, tulip-like flowers in the spring, attracting both bees and butterflies.
Tupelo trees are a great choice for those with ponds, bogs or waterlogged lawns. They tolerate a lot of moisture, and they have species from the eastern coast of Canada all the way down to Central America. They are so beloved by bees that the term Tupelo honey is rather commonplace, used by singer Van Morrison and restaurants the South over.
10. Crape myrtle
Crape myrtles are very popular ornamental trees that have attractive foliage, trunks and flowers. They grow well in the Southern states, with some cold-hardy species able to reach north into USDA Zone 5. No surprise, an abundance of flowers, which also come in an abundance of colors, attracts plenty of bees.
Southern magnolias, specifically, put out huge and fragrant blooms that not only brighten up the landscape but perfume it as well. The big flowers, sometimes a foot across, arrive in late spring and hang around into early summer. Other magnolia trees can work well, too, but if a Southern magnolia is possible…it’s the one.
Most of us are familiar with maple trees: We know the syrup, the Canadian flag, the hockey team, etc. There are over 100 different species of maple trees. Some are quite small while others are canopy trees, capable of growing nearly 150 feet high. In the early spring, many varieties put out eye-catching red blooms that provide premature pollen for hungry bees.
Aside from helping the bee population out, which is reason enough to plant any of these trees, the wonderful part is that they are all incidentally stunning specimens to have around. They are lovely to look at, providing flowers, attractive autumn foliage, and other wonderful treats, such as shade, food, firewood, and so on. Try planting some this fall.
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