© Devon Beekeepers' Association 2011 - Registered Charity Number 270675

Home News & Events About Bees Contact Us Site Map

Find on this site

Bee plants

The relationship of bees and plants is millions of years old. Many flowering plants rely on insects as part of their reproductive cycle. The flowers provide nectar for the insects who brush past the pollen-bearing anthers to reach it. Hopefully, some of the pollen is transferred to the stigma so the plant is fertilized in the process. The bee may also collect some of the pollen to take back to the colony.

More about pollination from Wikipedia

Bees use the nectar to make honey (food stores for the colony); nectar contains vitamins, minerals and essential oils as well as water and sugars. The pollen is gathered as a source of protein and fats, particularly for the larval stage of the bees’ development in the Spring. Bees also gather propolis from trees and buds. It has weatherproofing and antibacterial properties.

Many of our food crops are pollinated in this way (some estimates give it as much as one third). Sometimes bees are placed strategically for this purpose – for example in orchards or almond groves.

Pollinating insects are in severe decline (all over the world).

See BBC link for more information

The answers to these problems have proved to be elusive. Modern farming practices have been blamed in part, by the planting of monocultures, destruction of hedges and overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, with the resultant loss in habitat and wild flowers.

And this is where we can actually do something to improve the lot of honeybees and bumblebees – redressing the balance by providing suitable habitat and forage. For example in garden design, use less concrete, decking and slabs to make more room for wildlife areas. Let some plants go to seed.

Bees are mostly active between March and October. Early pollen yielding plants will help the colony build up quickly; nectar is also needed in quantity to provide fuel for the increased activity and wax cell production. In the summer months, during the ‘honey flow’, bees will be more preoccupied with collecting nectar for honey as stocks for the winter. There is a period called the ‘June gap’ between the early flowers and the summer. Providing plants to cover this lean period will be useful.

Link to beekeepers timetable (pdf)

Bees prefer to visit larger patches or clumps of the same species rather than individual plants. They also prefer plants in sunny, sheltered places rather than shaded or exposed locations. Many of the plants we consider weeds such as dandelions and thistles are favoured by bees.

An interesting way to investigate what works best for your soil/location is to keep a diary, noting what’s in flower, when and whether it is popular with bees. There are many books on the subject and websites with suggested bee plant lists. If you really get into it, perhaps consider a horticultural course!

Other Bee Plant Resources

Bee Happy Plants Ltd

Growers of natural, organic, true species of Culinary Herbs, Medicinal Herbs, Super-fruits - whic are also top Bee Plants.

Lakehayes Organic Nursery (Wholesale nursery), South Chard, Somerset TA20 2NZ

Tel (mail orders): 0845 4714020

Email: info@beehappyplants.co.uk


Natural History Museum - Postcode Plants Database

Enables you to generate local lists of UK plants - shows photographs, planting instructions and other information.

Click here for Postcode Plants Database

Botanical Society of the British Isles

Plant identification site


Melissa Garden

'What Do Honeybees Like?

That was our central question as we combed through many books and online plant lists, consulted various authorities, and asked nurseries what they considered to be their top honeybee plants. We didn’t want plants that honeybees simply visit; we wanted to select plants that honeybees clearly love. We compiled the names of hundreds of plants into a massive Excel file and then began our selection process for The Melissa Garden...'

(follow the link 'Plants for Honeybees' for list of plants)

www.themelissagarden.com (US)

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

'Bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen. Pollen contains proteins and fats and large quantities are needed, especially during the spring when many bee larvae are being raised. Nectar contains sugars and is the main energy source for bees...'


Information about wildlife meadows

BBC Science & Nature - Create a meadow

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust - Creating a Wildflower Meadow

The Grasslands Trust - Create a wildlife meadow


The BBKA garden, designed by Philippa O’Brien.

Bee Plant Lists

There are many plant lists for bees, we will list them here as we find them.

The pollinator crisis: What's best for bees

By Sharon Levy

Nature - November 9, 2011

Pollinating insects are in crisis. Understanding bees' relationships with introduced species could help. Bees thrum among bright red blossoms on a spring day on Mount Diablo, near San Francisco Bay. Alexandra Harmon-Threatt, a young ecologist just finishing her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, lovingly identifies an array of native pollinators. She points out three species of bumblebee, each with a unique pattern of black and yellow stripes. There are bee-flies, members of the fly family covered in soft brown fur, which look and act like bees. Among the native insects are plenty of honeybees (Apis mellifera), the species raised by beekeepers worldwide and introduced to the Americas by English settlers in the seventeenth century. All these insects are drawn to a clump of red vetch (Vicia villosa), an invasive weed. Just down the road is a patch of native lupins, laden with purple blossoms. But the lupins bloom in silence: no bees attend them.

Link to article in Nature

More bee plant pages

What's best for bees. Article for Nature.com

Download free pdf...

RHS Pollinators plant list

Click here to download for free

Waggle Dance Tutorial

Interactive website, from North Carolina State University, that allows one to change the parameters such as time of day, month, direction and distance to food sources and watch the bee change its dance.

Click here for more...

How do bees tell each other which plants to visit? The Waggle Dance (click here to see video)

Melissa Garden - a different way to keep bees.

Photo by NAL

Many of our food crops (such as this strawberry) are pollinated by bees.

Photo by NAL

click here for newsletter

Thistle (Circium spp.) is popular with all bees - welcome forage later in the year.

Photo by NAL

Clover is one of the major bee plants. White clover (Trifolium repens) is better suited to the shorter tongues of the honey bees than the red clover.

Photo by NAL

Rocket (Eruca sativa). Where possible, try and leave some of your herbs to flower.

Photo by NAL

What's best for bees. Article for Nature.com

Download free pdf...

Click here for Bee Plant Lists...

See also BBKA leaflets

HomePresidents Day/AgmAbout usAsian HornetAssociations"BEEKEEPING"Bees and HoneyBranch DiariesContactsDEVON COUNTY SHOWEducationEquipment/SuppliersFor Sale and WantedForthcoming EventsHive SizesHygienic BeesInsuranceLibraryMembers AreaTrophies and AwardsUseful linksVideo Links