The bee bee tree, Tetradium daniellii, is favored by both bees and beekeepers because of its bloom time. In mid to late summer (July and August) when nectar is scarce, the bee bee tree produces masses of flat white flower clusters reminiscent of elderberry blooms. The flowers are small, fragrant, sometimes tinged with pink or yellow, and extremely attractive to honey bees and other pollinators.
The tree can grow 40 feet tall, although 25-30 feet is more common. The bark is smooth and gray and the deciduous leaves are dark green and glossy. In autumn the leaves change little, falling once they turn faintly yellow. The seed pods are reddish to purple and each one contains two shiny black seeds that are highly prized by birds of all types.
Although the tree is not generally considered invasive, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has included it on their “watch list” because it has become problematic in some areas. It grows freely in USDA hardiness zones 4-8, prefers full sun, and is tolerant of a wide range of soil pH.
The bee bee tree is in the Rutaceae family—the same family as citrus trees. In the past the plant has been known as Evodia daniellii and Euodia daniellii. Commonly, it is also referred to as the Korean Bee Tree.
Early each spring I’m on the lookout for a frame of bigleaf maple honey. It blooms before the honey supers are in place, so I rifle through the brood boxes, looking for that special treat. In anticipation of this event, I often put an empty frame at the edge of a few brood boxes the previous fall–hope against hope that one might get filled with this magic nectar.
Bigleaf maple is the first honey crop of the season here and it doesn’t happen often. The huge trees bloom while we’re still in the depths of the rainy season, so many years it goes uncollected. Some local beekeepers estimate we get a salable crop of bigleaf maple about one year in eight. Sigh. So very sad.
This spring, at the apex of bloom, I spied one frame in my busiest, sunniest hive. It was in the top brood box, in the number ten position, capped with bright white wax and seething with bees. I gently pried it out, shook it, and replaced it with an empty frame, apologizing profusely to my bees the entire time.
I wrapped my prize in plastic, froze it overnight, and stuck it in a kitchen cupboard. I promptly forgot about it. Busy, busy. I thought about it once or twice, but never touched it all through spring and summer. But last weekend, as I was cleaning out my cupboards, I came across the pristine frame and knew it was time.
Since it was in a brood frame, I had to find and cut the cross wires before I could free the comb from the frame. But once I managed to find them all, the comb fell from the frame with a hearty thud. Honey ran out the sides and pooled on the wax paper. It had the color of champagne and the fragrance of spring.
I divided the comb into thirds and fit each piece into a gleaming glass container. On the way to the sink to wash stickies from my hands, I took a taste.
I stopped in my tracks. Licked my fingers. Licked the knife. Licked the wire cutters. I could not remember honey so good. I recalled the flavor immediately upon tasting it, but it was better somehow, richer, more complex. It was immorally good. Decadent beyond measure. Addictive. I had to sterilize everything after I stopped licking the kitchen.
The next morning I put it a container of it on the breakfast table with no word to my husband. We started eating breakfast when suddenly he said, “Oh my god, what is that?” He, too, remembered the flavor but thought it was better than ever. What is it about a good varietal honey in the comb? What is it about flavors we always remember?
Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) are huge trees. Large specimens can reach 100 feet tall and 48 inches in diameter. True to their name, the leaves can reach 24 inches wide. Seriously, you can lose your laptop under one leaf. The truly amazing thing, though, is the number of mosses, lichens, and ferns the trees support on their branches. Entire ecosystems exist up there among the protective foliage.
The trees produce small, fragrant, yellow-green flowers in March before the leaves begin to emerge. The flowers are attractive to many pollinators and the resultant seeds attract many small animals and birds. And the honey attracts me. Don’t pass up a chance to try it if you can find it.
This one surprised me. I’ve grown lovage for many years, but I usually cut it back before it flowers. This year I let it go. Yesterday I was amazed to count over forty honey bees on one plant. I had no idea they liked it so well.
Lovage, Levisticum officinale, is in the same family (Apiaceae) as celery, carrot, anise, parsnip, dill, and caraway. It is highly aromatic with hollow stems and greenish-yellow flowers. The flowers of many plants in this family are known as good companion plants because the nectar attracts such insects as parasitic wasps and flies as well as lady bugs. When not drinking nectar, these predatory insects feed on crop-damaging insects, making them valuable biological control agents.
I couldn’t find any references to lovage as bee forage, but in Honey Plants of North America (1926) John H. Lovell says that celery grown for seed along the Sacramento River yields a surplus honey crop. He mentions the flowers “yield nectar freely.” From what I observed yesterday, it seems the flowers of lovage do so as well.
In fact, the lovage managed to attract all those honey bees in spite of the fact that blackberries are in full and plentiful bloom where I live. I am impressed.
I recently got into a discussion with a reader—Jess from Olympia—about the white pollen I’ve been seeing on my bees. She did some research and came up with a couple possible sources for this snow-white pollen: white chicory or field bindweed. Further investigation showed that white chicory is rare and blue chicory has yellow pollen—so bindweed must be the answer. It just so happens that there is plenty of field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) near where I live.
The plant is native to Europe and Asia and was introduced to North America during colonial times. It was first recorded in Virginia in 1739.
As is turns out field bindweed—also known as morning glory—is a Class-C noxious weed in Washington. That designation is for weeds that are of special interest to the agricultural industry, and the counties may enforce control if it is beneficial for the county to do so.
Bindweed is particularly problematic in field crops such as cereal grains, beans, and potatoes because the long viney stems get entangled with harvesting equipment, may cause the crop to lodge (fall over), and can host several potato viruses. The flowers are pollinated by bees, moths, and butterflies.
The plants have a long flowering period that lasts from June until first frost, so they make reliable bee forage especially in hot, dry weather. The flowers I saw were attracting bumble bees that nestled right into the twisty, funnel-shaped flowers.
According to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, bindweed is a “very valuable honey plant” and “produces a surplus of white honey.”
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), a small tree in the buckthorn family, is now in full bloom in western Washington—although you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t look very closely. The small nondescript flowers, growing in the leaf axils, are only about 3-5 mm across with five greenish-yellow petals.
These trees grow in moist, acidic soils and tolerate shade well. They prefer the shady side of clearings or mottled forest edges, and they often grow in the company of red alder and vine maple. The species is native from British Columbia south through Washington, Oregon, and into central California and as far east as western Montana.
The bark of cascara was once used as a laxative and trees were decimated when they were stripped of their bark and left to die. Today, synthetic products have taken their place and the trees are no longer in danger.
If you can’t identify a cascara by sight, at this time of the year you can identify it by sound. Honey bees—as well as wild bees—love the tiny green blossoms which provide both nectar and pollen. Later, the flowers are replaced with red berries that quickly turn a very deep purple, almost black. Although the berries are edible, they don’t taste like anything, so they’re best left for the birds who seem to love them.
Cascara once produced large crops of honey, especially in California, although now you seldom hear of it. In Honey Plants of North America (1926), John Lovell wrote:
In Sonora, California, it is the principal honey plant. It blossoms about three weeks after fruit bloom is over and on an average lasts for about 25 days, although there are stray bushes near ditches or cultivated grounds which send out new shoots of bloom until September or October. The comb honey is so dark that it does not sell readily, but is well liked by those accustomed to it.
Lovell also mentions that the honey does not granulate, which occurs when honey has a high fructose to glucose ratio.
In Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest (1989), the authors write that bees collect both nectar and pollen from cascara. They go on to say:
Occasional surplus honey crops reported. Honey is light amber in color. Bloom may last up to six weeks.
Every year after the maple flow is over, I try to get a frame or two of Cascara honey. It is darker than many honeys and has a rich, woodsy flavor. The nectar flow lasts a good four or five weeks, so it’s an excellent forage for your bees.
And is it granulation-free, as Lovell says? I have no idea. It never lasts long enough to find out.