While honey bees will forage on a wide range of flowering plants, some species are better sources of nectar than others. The plants that bees use as a primary nectar source vary from area to area, and state to state, with Oregon being no exception. The Lane County Oregon Beekeepers Association identifies several plant species that serve as major nectar forage for honeybees, with blooming periods in early spring, through summer and into autumn.
Big Leaf Maple
The big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a large deciduous tree that can grow to 100 feet tall, with a rounded form and dense canopy. The leaves have a classic maple leaf shape and are large, reaching eight to 12 inches. The tree produces many tiny, inconspicuous flowers that serve as good early spring forage for honeybees in Oregon.
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) is a deciduous tree that can reach to 50 feet tall. The leaves are oval, deeply veined, and about three to four inches long. The flowers of the tree form in tight clusters. They are tiny, greenish-white and inconspicuous. The tree produces large quantities of flowers that serve well as a nectar source in the spring.
Huckleberry and blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) also bloom in the spring. Both plants grow as shrubs and produce edible fruit that is dark blue, around one-half inch in diameter, sweet and juicy. The plants flower in the spring and are an excellent source for nectar for honey bees. Many berry growers use the bees commercially for pollination.
Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is an evergreen tree that can grow to 65 feet. The leaves of the tree are simple and oval, thick and leathery, and range from 3 to 5 inches long, and 2 to 4 inches wide. The bark of the tree sheds and peels naturally. The urn-shaped flowers are white, small, around one-quarter inch in size and appear in spring.
Dewberry (Rubus ursinus) is a low-growing, evergreen shrub that produces slender, thorny, trailing stems that can grow to 20 feet in length. Leaves of the plant are compound, with three to five serrated leaflets. The stems, called canes, produce small five-petaled, white flowers.The fruit is black, juicy, sweet berries that are edible. Dewberry blooms in the spring and early summer.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is a low growing shrub that tends to form dense thickets with erect spreading branches. The leaves are oval and glossy green and between 2 and 4 inches long with serrated edges. The white to pink flowers are urn-shaped. The fruit of the plant is one-quarter inch in diameter, rounded and black. The plant flowers in the late spring with fruit ripening in the summer.
Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus) are available throughout the summer for honey bees as nectar forage. The shrub grows to 3 feet in height with oval leaves, with are 1 to 3 inches long with irregular, toothed edges. The small five-petaled flowers are white to light pink and form loose clusters along the branches. The fruit is white, waxy and berry-like. The plant flowers from June to August.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is the primary nectar source for honey bees in the fall, blooming from June through September. It is a perennial that grows from a rhizome-like root and displays a large spike of rose to purple flowers. It grows in all areas except the extreme southeastern portion of Oregon.