bee forage

Field bindweed as a pollinator plant

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.”


Field bindweed near a creek.

Detail of bindweed showing white pollen.

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  • Oh, I’m glad that worked out. The only reason I even think of bindweed was the noxious weed training I got through the Thurston County extension. They don’t discuss any potential secondary benefits of noxious weeds in that training, though. Like the honey!

    I was planning out some cover crops for my garden, so I’ve been thinking about buckwheat a lot lately. I bought a couple lbs of organic buckwheat seed at blacklake organic – their prices are ridiculously cheap. You’re the beekeeper that loves the buckwheat honey, right? I’m going to squeeze in a buckwheat crop right before frost. It’s supposed to flower in 25-30 days.

  • I live in an urban area, but I have a large field on my property behind my house. I can’t use the field for placing hives because of neighbourhood vandals, but the field, at various times of the year, seems like a bonanza for honey bees. In and around the field we have dandelions, apple blossoms, clover, Japanese knotweed, golden rod and more bindweed than you can shake a stick at. I didn’t see any honeybees on them last year. I thought maybe the flowers were too deep for the honey bees to reach. But I guess not.

    Man, I can’t wait until spring.

    • Phillip,

      Like I said in the article, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension says it an important honey plant, but around here I have only seen other pollinators on it–mostly bumble bees. It’s possible I haven’t checked at the right time of day. Some flowers release nectar only during certain hours, so you may have to check several times during the day to find honey bees.

      The other possibility is that something else may be blooming in that area at the same time–something they prefer. A lot depends on how badly they need the food and what their choices are. Bindweed does have a long flower, but I think it’s big enough that the bees can get right down in there.

  • I shall report back later this spring or summer. I’m such a nerd, I’m already excited about our first spring with the bees. Last year we couldn’t get them until July. I went crazy watching all the flowers blossoming around our place knowing the bees would probably love it — if we had the bees. Now we have them. I’ll be walking around all over the place to see where they go.

    Snow doesn’t let up around here until April. {Deep sigh.}

    • Great, I’m interested to know if honey bees forage on it and whether the pollen pellets are white. To see bees on bindweed here I have to slide down a muddy embankment and then wade through the edge of a creek to get to it. It’s kind of inconvenient, especially for just a quick look. One of my goals for this summer is to match up pollen colors with plants as much as I can. It fascinates me.

  • We have bindweed all over by the side of the road. Now I’m going to be impatiently looking for white pollen on my honey bees!

  • Hallo Rusty, I arrived here because the results of the plant survey wouldn’t open for me and whilst looking I arrived here. Reading it because of the dreaded bindwind I got to that bit where you write that a goal for the summer of 2011 is to match up plants with their pollen colours. I was wondering if you achieved that goal. In april this year, that is 2015, I will start on a European pollen investigaton for different areas to see what grows and how our bio-diversity is. It is run for NL from the Wageningen Agricultural University but is part of the COLOSS work. By the way bindweed in my garden is something I battle all year but bindweed in the nature reserve gets a hurrah from me and it is indeed so that the bees look like they have been snuggling into icing sugar.

    • Lindy,

      No, I have not worked on that yet. I can see where you all are going to be keeping me busy.

  • I live in Texas, and around here we have Texas bindweed (related, but with smaller flowers I think). Do bees like it too?

  • This stuff has a chokehold on so many of my pollinator plants – verbena, marigolds, asters, pincushions, lavender, rosemary, bee balm, and even some of the blackberry – that I’d happily destroy every last bit of it if I only could…