attracting wild pollinators bee forage

Hardy kiwis attract many kinds of bees

Pollen-laden honey bee approaches a kiwi flower.

Hardy kiwis have snow-white flowers, fragrant blooms, and abundant pollen. Many species of bees, including honey bees, forage for the pollen.

Inside: In spring, the male plants of hardy kiwis produce bumper crops of pollen. Many species of bees, especially bumble bees, enjoy the rich, easy-to-collect cache of pollen.

Several years ago, I planted two Arguta kiwis—one male and one female (Actinidia arguta). Today these have turned into huge plants, looping over the garden fence, running along the chicken yard, and straying into the backyard where I have them propped up with a trellis. Right now, they are in full bloom and bees of many types are plying the milk-white flowers for pollen.

Before this year, I never noticed the aroma of the flowers, but this year there are thousands and thousands of flowers, and I can’t help but smell them. These kiwis, also known as “hardy” kiwis, produce the little, smooth-skinned, grape-sized fruit sometimes called cocktail kiwis or dessert kiwis.

A bounty for the bees and you

In the past, I’ve collected these for jam, pies, and fruit crisp, as well as for eating plain. But this year—if all goes well—I’ll have to be more creative. When I say there are thousands out there I’m not exaggerating. I have no clue what I will do with them all.

The important thing, though, is that the honey bees love them. Most things I plant the honey bees pretty much ignore—probably because they are in small quantities—but with the kiwis in such abundance, the bees are happy to spend their days choosing among the many blossoms. Kiwis are one of those plants that are largely dependent on bee pollination, hence the bee-attractive flowers and alluring scent.

Hardy kiwis need lots of space

If you are a beekeeper/gardener I would recommend the hardy kiwi if you’ve got the space to support it. The vines can tolerate temperatures to about -25° F (-32° C). They flower during May and June, and can withstand a certain amount of shade. The vines prefer well-drained, lightly acid soil (pH 5.5-6.5) and need lots of water. Although they stay relatively free of garden pests, deer love the leaves.

The fruits ripen very late—October or November here in the northwest—but you can pick them early and allow them to ripen indoors, much like the larger kiwifruit. Remember that kiwi plants are dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers form on different plants. Although you need at least one of each, one male flower will provide enough pollen for several female flowers.

Honey Bee Suite

Honey bee approaching a kiwi flower. Photo by the author.

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    • Hi Rusty—everything I eead says kiwis have no nectar. And do you know anything about the nutritional value of its pollen for bees, in male and female flowers?

      • Maggie,

        I don’t know anything about the nutritional value of hardy kiwi pollen for bees. The pollen is found in the male flowers only. As far as I know, the bees are attracted to the female flowers because of their scent.

  • Oh, like I needed another reason to plant hardy kiwis. I go back and forth, though, because I’m short on space!