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?

Here are 10 of the best trees for bees in North America. 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. 

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American Basswood

American basswood, also known as linden.
American basswood, also known as linden. Flickr user Virens (Latin for greening)/ CC Attribution license

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 a basswood in bloom, and you'll see bumblebees, sweat bees, and even nectar-loving flies and wasps visiting its flowers.

For more information: American Basswood, Iowa State University Forestry Extension fact sheet.

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Southern Magnolia

Southern magnolia.
Southern magnolia. Flickr user wlcutler/ CC Attribution license

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.

For more information: Southern Magnolia, Texas A&M University fact sheet.

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Sourwood. Flickr user wlcutler/ CC Attribution license

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.

For more information: Sourwood, University of Georgia fact sheet (PDF).

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Black cherry.
Black cherry. Flickr user Dendroica cerulea/ CC Attribution license

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 have a tendency to spread, and can be toxic to sheep and cattle.

For more information: Black Cherry, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service fact sheet. See also Common Chokecherry, University of Maine fact sheet.

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Eastern redbud.
Eastern redbud. Flickr user stillriverside/ CC Share Alike license

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.

For more information: Eastern Redbud, U.S. Forest Service fact sheet.

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Crabapple. Flickr user Ryan Somma/ CC Attribution license

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.

For more information: Crabapples, Ohio State University fact sheet.

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Black locust.
Black locust. Flickr user hyper7pro/ CC Attribution license

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's 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.

For more information: Black Locust, Plant Conservation Alliance, US Park Service fact sheet.

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Serviceberry or shadbush.
Serviceberry or shadbush. Flickr user brewbooks/ CC Share Alike license

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).

For more information: Serviceberry, Clemson Cooperative Extension fact sheet.

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Tulip Tree

Tulip tree.
Tulip tree. Flickr user kiwinz/ CC Attribution license

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.

For more information: Tulip Poplar, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service fact sheet.

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Water tupelo.
Water tupelo. Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org/ CC Attribution license

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. In fact, 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.

For more information: Blackgum, US Forest Service fact sheet.