Bees and Trees | Trees and Shrubs | Resources | Activities
Trees and Shrubs
[Most of the contents of this page are included in a 5-page pdf on this site.*]
These trees and shrubs are rated as good ♦, better ♥, and best ♠, roughly graded on the pollen and nectar forage they provide at a given time of year and as compared to other sources. What they actually provide will vary depending on soil conditions, the weather in a given year, etc. These lists are not complete, though they include many of the best for our region. Other species, not listed here, are probably better than nothing. Invasive species are not listed, though a few are mentioned in passing. Native species, important for the habitat in general, are rated a little higher.
Before you plant, it’s important to find out more about the specific tree or shrub — the soil conditions it may require, the size it may grow to, etc. References and Online Resources can give you more information.
Å – approved Philadelphia Street Tree (large)
å – approved Philadelphia Street Tree (small)
√ – a TreePhilly giveaway tree in 2017
‡ – Howard Nursery, Penna Game Commission, 2017
◊ – not native to our region
ø – not native to North America
ð – does well in partial shade
≈ – does better in moist soil
§ – can be used in a hedge
Ò – edibles provided
β – bloom time (approx)
Larger trees, mostly
Maple (Acer spp.)
Maples bloom early in the year, providing valuable pollen and nectar when the bees are “brooding up.”
♦ Box Elder, Ash-leaved Maple (Acer negundo) β April, 30-50′
A tree in the Maple genus which is mainly wind-pollinated, Box Elder has pollen which is nutrient-dense for bees and other pollinator insects. Some consider it weedy and aggressive.
♥ Red Maple (Acer rubrum) Å, β March-April, 40-60′
♠ Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) Å, β April, 60-75′ Ò
♦ Mountain Maple* (Acer spicatum) β May, 15-30′
Buckeye (Aesculus spp.)
♥ Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) ◊, β June, 30-50′
Also: Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava, Å, β June, 40-60′); Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, Å ø, β May, 30-50′).
♦ Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) β Jul, 8-10′
A shrub in the same genus.
♦ Japanese Chestnut* (Castanea crenata) ø Ò, β June, 30-45′
Brought to this country as part of the effort to replace the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata), once a solid contributor to bee forage on this continent.
♦ Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) ◊, β May-June, 40-60′
Native to the Ohio Valley and Appalachia, and established much more widely. Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides, ◊, β June 30-40′) is from further south. Both do well in our area and are bee-friendly.
♦ Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) √ Å ◊, β June, 30-50′
Heavy blossoms produce a strong flow, about 2-3 times a decade.
♦ Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) Ò, β June, 40-60′
Readily grown from seed; in the vicinity of an adult tree, look for start-up trees that can be dug up and transplanted.
♦ Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) √ Å, β May, 30-70′
Named for the sweet smell and taste of seed pods and foliage, which can be fodder for livestock. For the bees, it’s good for pollen, not much nectar. Some cultivars are thornless.
♥ Goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) Å ø. β July, 30-40′
A ‘Fastigiata’ cultivar is approved for narrow streets.
♠ Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) Å, β May-June, 80-100+’
Nectar oozes from the petals in orange cup-shaped flowers, 50′ or higher from the ground. This tree is often a dominant species in forested upland parts of Philadelphia and its western suburbs, in areas that were historically a hickory-oak mix. This tree is approved for wider streets and parks, and a ‘Fastigiatum’ cultivar is approved for narrow streets.
♥ Maackia (Maackia amurensis) Å ø, β September, 30-50′
From north-eastern Asia, this super bee-friendly tree is approved for frequent street planting. It blooms in September, when the bees build up honey reserves for overwintering.
Magnolia (Magnolia spp.)
♦ Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) ◊, β June-July, 20-80′
The classic magnolia tree. It does alright in northern climes but “realistically the great trees are in the South” – Dirr.
♥ Umbrella tree (Magnolia tripetala) β June, 15-40′
♦ Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) √ ≈, β June, 10-20′
♥ Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) √ Å, β May-June, 50-80′
For more than two centuries, hollow sections of Black Gum logs were used in America for beehives called ‘Bee Gums.’ They were replaced in the late 1800s by box-shaped, moveable-frame ‘Langstroth’ hives. Prolific nectar, which on its own would make a darker grade honey.
♥ Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) ‡ ◊, β May, 30-60′
In some years the Black Locust can be a bountiful nectar producer. It survives in difficult settings and sometimes may spread aggressively.
♥ Japanese Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) ø, β August, 50-75′
“Trees are an excellent source of pollen and nectar in late summer” (Lindtner).
♠ Bee Bee Tree (Tetradium daniellii) ø, β July, 25-40′
The “Bee Bee Tree,” also called Korean Evodia, has an enthusiastic following among beekeepers. It provides pollen and nectar in substantial quantities, at a time in the year when forage is otherwise rather scarce. However, Pennsylvania’s DCNR has it on the invasive species ‘Watch List,’ a step away from the official declaration.
Linden, aka Basswood, Lime tree (Tilia spp.)
♠ American Linden (Tilia americana) Å, β June, 60-80′
A champion honey tree, smells great when in bloom. Its range extends from Philadelphia northwards. With climate warming in coming decades, the Linden may lose its habitable niche here.
♦ Little Leaf Linden (Tilia cordata) ø, β May-June, 60-70′
Blooms earlier than the American Linden; both in the same area will stretch out the flow.
♦ Silver Linden (Tilia tomentosa) Å ø, β June-July, 50-70′
It is more heat and drought tolerant than other Tilia species, once established.
Smaller trees, mostly
♦ Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) Ò, β March-April, 15-25′
Amelanchier x grandiflora, an approved street tree for frequent planting under power lines, is a cross between Amelanchier laevis (one of the more edible of this genus) and Amelanchier arborea (‡).
♥ Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa) ◊ Ò, β August-September, 10-20′
Not to be confused with the invasive Japanese Aralia (Aralia elata, Ø) which is well entrenched in parts of Philadelphia. Both are good sources of forage at a slack time of year.
♥ Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) å ≈ Ò, β March-April , 20-30′
Redbud flowers look a bit like cherry blossoms, and are edible as garnishes and in salads.
♦ Cornelian-cherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) √ å ø § Ò, β March, 15-20′
One of the earliest small trees to bloom in the spring, providing both pollen and nectar. Can be pruned as a hedge. Other dogwoods may provide forage for bees, though not as well-timed for when the bees really need it. Pagoda Dogwood* (Cornus alternifolia, β May, 15-25′) was a 2016 TreePhilly giveaway. Red-stem Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‡ ≈, β May, 15-25′) is a bee-friendly native dogwood for wetland areas, available from Howard Nursery for Pennsylvania habitat restoration.
♦ American Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) √, β May, 10-20′
Prefers dry terrain. In the Anacardiaceae family with Sumacs.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
All hawthorns contribute to the honeyflow in the May-June peak of the season. The flowers are reputed to smell awful, so some people avoid planting them near the house. Generally the hawthorns are small trees, but some (Crataegus mollis and C. monogyna) grow to 40′ or so. Seven hawthorn species are approved for planting on the streets under powerlines: C. crus-galli §, C. flava, C. laevigata, C. phaenopyrum, C. punctata, C. veridis, and C. x lavallei.
♦ Thicket Hawthorn (Crataegus intricata) § ð, β April-May, 8-10′
Shade tolerant and can be pruned. A hedgerow of hawthorns can equal one good bee-friendly tree.
♥ Washington Hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum) √ ‡ ◊ §, β June, 25-30′
♥ Dotted hawthorn* (Crataegus punctata) ð, β June, 20-35′
“A great boost to the bees wherever it was plentiful.” – Pellett
♠ Franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha) β July, 10-20′
William Bartram named this “rare and elegant flowering shrub” to honor his father’s great friend Benjamin Franklin. Extinct in the wild, it is available in horticultural circles and celebrated in Philadelphia. And it is a strong bee-forage plant, with both pollen and nectar.
♦ American Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) √, β November, 20-30′
This blooms late in the fall. Ozark Witchhazel (H. vernalis, ◊, β March, 10-15′) blooms early in the spring. Neither provides the quantities of pollen and nectar that might be expected at another time of year, but the fact that they provide anything is a beekeepers’ marvel and a midwinter treat for the bees on warmer days.
Holly & related (Ilex spp.)
American Holly is a proper ‘tree’-sized tree. Others listed here are smaller. All these here are native species. All are abundant sources of bee forage, and also provide berries for birds and other wildlife in the winter. Holly is dioecious, which means males are needed for female Hollies to have berries.
♥ Possum Haw (Ilex decidua) ð, β April-May, 10-25′
♥ Inkberry, Gallberry (Ilex glabra) ð ≈ §, β May-June, 5-10′
The ‘Compacta’ variety can be pruned as a hedge – Whitehead.
♥ American Holly (Ilex opaca) ð §, β June, 40-50′
♠ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) ‡ ð §, β May-June, 6-10′
Heavy pollen and nectar flow, shade tolerant though better with some sun, can be pruned and hedged.
Apple (Malus spp.)
♥ Southern Crabapple (Malus angustifolia) β April-May, 15-25′
♥ Sweet Crabapple (Malus coronaria) ‡ Ò, β April-May, 20-30′
♥ Robinson Crabapple (Malus ‘Robinson’) Ò, β April-May, 20-30′
♥ Apple (Malus domestica) √ ø Ò, β May, 30-40′
This is the regular eating apple, introduced from Eurasia, and a good bee-friendly tree. TreePhilly often has 1+ varieties.
♦ Japanese Crabapple* (Malus floribunda) ø, β April-May, 15-25′
♦ Medlar* (Mespilus germanica) ø ð Ò, β May, 15-25′
♦ Fragrant Osmanthus* (Osmanthus fragrans) ø, β November, 10-20′
♥ Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) √ ≈, β July, 25-30′
Highly regarded by beekeepers in the southern U.S., Sourwood is being tried in this area. It does best in a rich, acidic soil. “Many people regard it as the finest honey produced in America” – Pellett.
Pit-type Fruit trees (Prunus spp.)
This tree family includes cherries, apricots, plums, and chokecherries. Many of our most familiar fruit are exotic to this continent, but several native Prunus species are particularly bee-friendly.
♥ American Plum (Prunus americana) Ò, β March-April, 15-25′
♦ Tilton Apricot* (Prunus armeniaca) ø Ò, β April, 12-15′
♦ Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium) √ ø Ò, β April, 15-30′
Other cherries (P. ‘Okame’ and P. sargentii) are also good bee forage.
♦ Peach* (Prunus persica) ø Ò, β April, 15-30′
The Nectarine, a sub-species (Prunus persica var. nucipersica) √ ø Ò, may be a TreePhilly giveaway in the fall of 2017.
♦ Japanese Plum* (Prunus salicina ‘ Santa Rosa’) ø Ò, β April, 12-15′
♦ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) β May-June, 50-60′
A widely distributed American native, growing considerably taller than the other Prunus species.
♦ Manchu Cherry* (Prunus tomentosa) ø Ò, β April, 8-10′
♥ Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) å, β April-May, 20-30′
♦ Hoptree, Wafer Ash, Shrubby trefoil* (Petelea trifoliata) β June, 15-20′
“There are numerous reports to the effect that the hop-tree is a good source of nectar in the Eastern States” – Pellett.
♦ Pear* (Pyrus communis) ø Ò, β April-May, 10-20′
Pears are in the Rosaceae family of fruiting trees including apples. Asian Pear* (Pyrus pyrifolia, ø) has been a TreePhilly giveaway. (The Callery Pear, aka Bradford Pear, Pyrus calleryana, Ø, is a nasty invasive — malodorous and difficult to extirpate on open ground. It’s sometimes planted by unprofessional landscapers as street trees and at malls etc. Limbs break off readily and it is prone to storm damage. It blooms profusely with snow-white flowers, but is seldom visited by honey bees and native pollinators.)
Sumac (Rhus spp.)
Sumac bloom times vary during the year, depending on the species. Height varies also. Several produce ample forage in the late summer.
♦ Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) ð §, β April-May, 2-5′
“Stubbornly informal,” tough and adaptable. – Whitehead.
♥ Chinese Sumac* (Rhus chinensis) ø, β September, 15-25′
♠ Shining Sumac (Rhus copallinum) β August, 20-30′
♥ Red Sumac (Rhus glabra) β July, 10-15′
♥ Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) √, β June, 15-25′
Willow (Salix spp.)
Willows bloom early in the year, and species seem to waver between insect and wind pollinated. Over millions of years, many have coevolved with pollinator species to provide nectar as well as more digestible pollen.
♥ Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) ≈, β March-April, 20-25′
The Pussy willow, and its European cousin the Goat Willow (Salix caprea ø ≈, β March, 15-25′), bloom early in the spring.
♦ Black Willow (Salix nigra) ≈, β April-May, 10-60′
♦ Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) Ò, β July, 8-12′
Not a huge forage source but provides some pollen; berries can be used for food and drink products, and medicinally.
♦ Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) Ò, β May-June, 10-30′
Sour berries can be used in jellies and medicinally. The so-called Mountain Ash is not the genus of Ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) which is being decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer.
♦ Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonica) ø, β May-June, 10-25′
Shrubs and vines
With shrubs, and with some of the small trees above, consider spread as well as height. ‘Dave’s Garden‘ and other websites may have this info.
♦ Mexican Abelia* (Abelia floribunda) ø, β August-November, 6-10′
As its Latin name suggests, this bush ‘flowers abundantly’ from mid-summer until frost. May need a warm, protected location.
♦ False Indigo* (Amorpha fruticosa) β June, 6-15′
“Excellent nectar and pollen source for native bees.” – Doug Tallamy
♦ Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, aka Photinia melanocarpa) ‡ β May, 3-6′
Also Red Chokeberry* (Aronia arbutifolia, aka Photinia pyrifolia) β April-May, 5-10′
♦ Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) β August, 30-40′ vine
♦ Bluebeard* (Caryopteris x clandonensis) β August, 3-5′
♥ New Jersey Tea bush (Ceanothus americanus) β Sep, 3-4′
♥ Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) ≈, β August, 3-6′
Ball-shaped flower, lots of nectar for native pollinators and honey bees.
♦ Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) ø Ò, β April, 3-5′
An exotic species, provides forage early in the spring. The quince fruit, stronger tasting than commercial varieties, can be candied.
♥ Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) ≈ ð §, β July, 4-8′
Needs loose, fertile soil; can be hedged. Also: Cinnamonbark Clethra* (Clethra acuminata) ð, β July-August, 8-15′. The even larger Japanese Clethra* (Clethra barbinervis) ø, β June, grows to 10-20′.
♦ Bush honeysuckle* (Diervilla lonicera) β July-August, 1-3′
“Where it is abundant, beekeepers report that the bees work it eagerly when the weather will permit. The flowers are not showy, but the profuse bloom is rich in nectar.” – Pellett
♥ Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) ð, β May-July, 4-6′
Hydrangea PeeGee* (Hydrangea paniculata, ø, β July-September, 10-20′) blooms later in the year. It gets its name from H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (PG).
♥ Oregon Grapeholly* (Mahonia aquifolium) ◊ ð Ò, β February-March, 3-6′
♦ Holly Olive* (Osmanthus armatus) ø, β November, 8-12′
♥ Boston Ivy* (Parthanocissus tricuspidata) ø ð, β July, 20-30′ vine
Bees find the inconspicuous flowers by smell, generally foraging on it only in the late morning.
♥ Goosberry (Ribes grossularia) ø Ò, β April, 3-5′
Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum, ø ð §, β April, 3-4′) can be hedged. Fragrant Current* (Ribes aurea or R. odoratum, Ò, β April, 6-8′) is native to mid-western states.
♥ Blackberry, Raspberry (Rubus spp.) ø, β May, 3-7′
Both R. fruticosus and R. idaeus are good bee forage. The native Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis, Ò, β May, 3-6′) is also bee-friendly.
♥ Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) β July, 3-6′
Also, Coralberry, Indian currant* (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus, β June-July, 4-6′). Frank Pellett writes: “The blossoms are very small and inconspicuous, but where the plant is abundant it is much sought by the bees.”
♥ Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) Ò, β June, 5-10′
Also, Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium, Ò, 6″-2′).
♦ Chaste Tree* (Vitex agnus-castus) ø, β August, 5-15′
Pollen & Propolis
Some trees are basically wind-pollinated, including Oaks, Birches, Hickories, and Mulberries, and evergreens such as Pine and Spruce. These trees often flower early in the spring, at or before leaf out. The leaves would inhibit the passage of pollen from one tree to another. For many of these trees, male flowers are ‘catkins’ and female flowers are inconspicuous and odorless. Grains of pollen are generally small, hard, and low in protein. Many of these trees are nearly useless to insect foragers seeking nectar and digestible pollen.
Birch family (Alnus, Betula, Carpinus, Corylus and Ostrya spp.)
This family of wind-pollinated trees includes approved street trees such as the Grey Birch (Betula populifolia, √), the Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), and the Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana, √). They have no nectar, and generally the bees won’t find the pollen very appetizing, depending on the time of year and whether there are better alternatives.
♦ Green Alder (Alnus viridis) β March, 8-10′
Early in the spring, bees do collect pollen from this tree, which grows near streams and in wet soils. Speckled Alder (Alnus incana ssp. rugosa, β March, 8-15′) also provides early pollen.
♥ American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) √, Ò, β February, 15-20′
Two other hazelnuts, both non-native, Corylus avellana. and Corylus colurna, also provide a fair bit of pollen early in the year.
Elm family (including Celtis and Ulmus spp.)
Another set of wind-pollinated trees includes trees in the Celtis and Ulmus genera. Few provide nectar and digestible pollen for bees and other pollinator species. Three approved street trees are in this family: Sugar Hackberry (Celtis laevigata), Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and American elm (Ulmus americana).
Poplars (Populus spp.)
Poplars, including Aspens and Cottonwoods, generally provide little sustenance for bees. (The so-called Tulip Poplar, in the Magnolia family, is named ‘poplar’ because the wood and the stature of the tree are similar.)
♦ Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) 75-100+’
An important source of propolis, from the resinous sap of the buds, used by the bees as caulk and medicinally.
Sycamores (Platanus spp.)
Commonly planted on Philadelphia streets, the London Planetree (P. x acerifolia) provides almost nothing for the bees.
* – Most of these trees, shrubs and vines are listed in our handout, and in the 5-page version. A few that are not are marked here with an asterisk. See also our online list of ‘Exotics and Invasives.’