10 Best North American Trees for Bees

Pollinators are in peril, as you've probably heard. Beekeepers continue to lose significant percentages of their honey bee colonies each year to the mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder. And if that's not bad enough, native pollinators also seem to be in decline. 

Unfortunately, our agricultural and landscaping practices aren't helping the pollinators' plight. More and more farm acreage is being used to grow corn and soybeans, creating massive monocultures that aren't healthy environments for bees. Many American homes are surrounded by lawns, with landscapes that lack native flowering plants. What's a bee to do?

When you think of bees gathering pollen and nectar, you probably imagine a colorful flower bed, filled with annuals and perennials. But did you know that bees visit trees, too?

The next time you choose a tree to plant in your yard, at a school, or in a park, consider planting a native flowering tree that bees will love to visit. 

01
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American Basswood

American basswood, also known as linden.

Virens/Flickr

Scientific Name: Tilia americana

Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer

Region: Eastern U.S. and Canada

Basswood, or linden, is a favorite of beekeepers because its nectar is irresistible to honey bees. Some beekeepers even market basswood honey. Observe basswood in bloom, and you'll see bumblebees, sweat bees, and even nectar-loving flies and wasps visiting its flowers.

02
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Southern Magnolia

Southern magnolia.

wlcutler/Flickr

Scientific Name: Magnolia grandiflora

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Southeastern U.S.

The charismatic magnolia is a symbol of the South. Its showy, fragrant flowers can span a foot or more across. Magnolias are associated with beetle pollinators, but that doesn't mean the bees will pass them by. If you don't live in the deep South, try planting sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) instead. The native range of M. virginiana extends as far north as New York.

03
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Sourwood

Sourwood

wlcutler/Flickr

Scientific Name: Oxydendrum arboreum

Bloom Time: Early summer

Region: Mid-Atlantic and Southeast

If you've traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway, you've probably seen beekeepers selling sourwood honey from roadside stands. Honey bees love the slightly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers of the sourwood (or sorrel) tree. The sourwood tree, which belongs to the heath family, attracts all sorts of bees, as well as butterflies and moths.

04
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Cherry

Black cherry.

Dendroica cerulea/Flickr

Scientific Name: Prunus spp.

Bloom Time: Spring to early summer

Region: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Just about any species of Prunus will attract bees in large numbers. As an added bonus, they're also the host plants for hundreds of moths and butterflies. The genus Prunus includes cherries, plums, and other similar fruit-bearing trees. If you want to attract pollinators, consider planting either black cherry (Prunus serotina) or chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). Do be aware, however, that both species tend to spread, and can be toxic to sheep and cattle.

05
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Redbud

Eastern redbud.

stillriverside/Flickr

Scientific Name: Cercis spp.

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Most of the eastern U.S., southern Ontario, the Southwest, and California

The redbud boasts unusual magenta blooms that arise from buds along twigs, branches, and even the trunk. Its flowers attract bees in early to mid spring. The eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, grows throughout most eastern U.S. states, while the California redbud, Cercis orbiculata, thrives in the Southwest.

06
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Crabapple

Crabapple

Ryan Somma/Flickr

Scientific Name: Malus spp.

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Throughout U.S. and Canada

How can you go wrong with a crabapple tree? Crabapples bloom in white, pink, or red, and attract all kinds of interesting pollinators, like orchard mason bees. You can choose from several species and hundreds of Malus cultivars. Select a variety that's native to your area using the USDA Plants Database.

07
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Locust

Black locust

hyper7pro/Flickr

Scientific Name: Robinia spp.

Bloom Time: Late spring

Region: Throughout U.S. and Canada

Locust may not be everyone's favorite choice of trees, but it does have value to foraging bees. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is widespread in North America, thanks to its invasive tendency. It's also a hardy choice for tough environments, like urban areas. Honey bees love it, as do many native pollen bees. If you don't want to plant black locust, consider another Robinia species that are native to your area. New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana) is a good choice for the Southwest, and bristly locust (Robinia hispida) grows well in most of the lower 48 states.

08
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Serviceberry

Serviceberry or shadbush

brewbooks/Flickr

Scientific Name: Amelanchier spp.

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Serviceberry, also known as shadbush, is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring. Bees love the serviceberry's white flowers, while birds love its berries. Eastern species include the common or downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and the Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis). In the West, look for Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifoli).

09
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Tulip Tree

Tulip tree

kiwinz/Flickr

Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Eastern and southern U.S., Ontario

Take one look at the stunning yellow flowers of the tulip tree, and you will understand how it got its common name. Tulip trees grow straight and tall throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S., offering springtime nectar to all kinds of pollinators. It's sometimes called tulip poplar, but this is a misnomer, as the species is actually a magnolia and not a poplar at all. Beekeepers will tell you their honey bees love tulip trees. The Xerces Society recommends choosing a variety with bright yellow flowers to best attract pollinators.

10
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Tupelo

Water tupelo

Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Scientific Name: Nyssa spp.

Bloom Time: Spring

Region: Eastern and Southern U.S.

Whether it's the black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) or the water tupelo (Nyssa aquatic), bees love the tupelo tree. Have you ever heard of tupelo honey? Honey bees make it from the nectar of these spring-blooming trees. Beekeepers near the swamps of the deep South will even put their hives on floating docks so their bees can nectar on the water tupelo blossoms. The black tupelo also goes by the names black gum or sour gum.