Welcome to The Bee Byway Plant Guide:
What Makes a Bee-Friendly Plant?
I. Is it Good for Bees?
How can you tell if a plant is good for bees? Bees need different nutrients based on where they are in their life cycle. Larvae need the protein in pollen to help them grow. Queens need lipids in the pollen so they can lay eggs. Workers need carbohydrates to help fuel their foraging flights. We learned that while there is no perfect plant, planting a diversity of bee-friendly plants lets the bees choose what they need when they need it.
So, how do you know if a plant is good for bees? We did our own research and worked with biologists and master gardeners to answer this question. We also spent a couple years studying the plants in our local area and took data on which plants attracted the most bees. From our observations, we compiled a Master Plant List.
II. Is it Aggressive?
For this project, we wanted to choose plants that were best for bees AND humans, so we use plants that are not vigorous spreaders. These plants can crowd out other beneficial plants that are good for bees, too. Some native plants, like Virginia bluebells, which are great for bees, spread quickly and take over in the garden, which is not so great for humans.
III. Native vs. Non-natives:
“Native” can mean different things, but we define it as a plant that naturally occurs in the Mid-Atlantic Region of the United States. Native plants are really good at fitting into existing wild landscapes and meeting the needs of the local ecosystem, including native bees! Their natural growing cycle coincides with that of the local pollinators’ life cycles. Also, native plants usually need less maintenance than plants transplanted from other regions.
However, sometimes non-native plants, like salvia and purple coneflower, can fulfill the bees’ needs, too. On our list, we have included some non-native plants that we have observed many bees on and that do not spread aggressively. These plants are more compact and fit better into cultivated gardens than some natives.
IV. Try to Avoid Cultivars if Possible
A cultivar is a version of a plant that humans have genetically modified to have a specific trait. For example, some cultivars of purple coneflower have been changed by humans to have white and orange flowers instead of purple flowers. Sometimes cultivars do not have pollen. This might be great for humans, but this is a disaster for bees! It is a good idea to research the specific cultivar you are considering to be sure there are no negative effects on pollen or nectar production. In some cases, cultivars CAN be better than the original plant. For example, a cultivar of obedient plant does not spread as aggressively as the original, making better for gardeners.
The plant links are to show the plant’s appearance and what conditions they enjoy. We are not promoting any nurseries.
|Spring Plant Name||Spring Common Name||Height||Width||Are we growing these seeds?|
|Baptisia australis||Wild Blue Indigo||3-4 ft.||2-3 ft.||Yes|
|Baptisia tinctoria||Yellow Wild Indigo||2-3 ft||2-3 ft||No|
|Caltha palustris||Marsh Marigold||1 ft||1-2 ft||No|
|Geranium maculatum||Wild Geranium||1 ft.||1.5 ft.||No|
|Iris versicolor||Northern Blue Flag||3 ft||2-3 ft||Yes|
|Penstemon digitalis||Foxglove Beardtongue||3-5 ft.||1.5-2 ft.||No|
|Polemonium reptans||Jacob’s Ladder||1 ft.||5-1 ft||Yes|
|Tradescantia ohiensis||Ohio Spiderwort||2-3 ft||2-3 ft||No|
|Tradescantia virginiana||Virginia Spiderwort||1.5-3 ft||1.5-2 ft.||No|
|Zizia aurea||Golden Alexanders||1-3 ft||1-2 ft||Yes|
|Summer Plant Name||Summer Plant Common Name||Height||Width||Are we growing these seeds?|
|Echinacea purpurea||Purple Coneflower||3-4 ft||1.5-2 ft.||Yes|
|Eryngium yuccifolium||Rattlesnake Master||4-5 ft||3 ft||Yes|
|Eupatorium perfoliatum||Boneset||4-6 ft.||3-4 ft.||Yes|
|Eutrochium maculatum||Joe Pye Weed||3-5 ft.||2-4 ft.||No|
|Eutrochium fistulosum||Hollow Joe Pye Weed||5-10 ft||2-4 ft||Yes|
|Helianthus angustifolius||Swamp Sunflower||5-7 ft.||4-5 ft.||No|
|Helianthus laetiflores||Perennial Sunflower||2-5 ft.||3 ft.||No|
|Hibiscus laevis||Rose Mallow||5||3-4 ft.||Yes|
|Kosteletzkya virginica||Seashore Mallow||3-5 ft.||4 ft.||No|
|Liatris microcephala||Smallhead Blazing Star||1.5-2 ft.||.75-1 ft.||No|
|Liatris spicata||Dense Blazing Star||2-4 ft.||.75-1.5 ft||Yes|
|Lobelia siphilitica||Great Blue Lobelia||1-4ft||1-1.5 ft.||No|
|Mimulus ringens||Monkey Flower||1-3 ft||1 ft||Yes|
|Monarda bradburiana||Eastern Bee Balm||1-2 ft||1-2 ft||No|
|Monarda fistulosa||Wild Bergamot||2-4 ft.||2-3 ft.||Yes|
|Monarda punctata||Spotted Beebalm||2 ft||.75-1 ft.||No|
|Pycnanthemum virginianum||Mountain Mint||3 ft.||3 ft.||Yes|
|Senna hebecarpa||American Senna||5 ft.||2 ft.||Yes|
|Silphium perfoliatum||Cup Plant||4-10 ft.||4-6 ft||Yes|
|Smallanthus uvedalia||Hairy Leafcup (Bear’s Foot)||2-3 ft.||1-1.5 ft.||Yes|
|Verbena hastata||Blue Vervain||2-5 ft||1-2.5 ft||Yes|
|Veronicastrum virginicum||Culver’s Root||3-6.5ft||2-3ft||No|
|Fall Plant Name||Fall Common Plant Name||Height||Width||Are we growing these seeds?|
|Chelone glabra||White Turtlehead||2-3 ft||1 ft||Yes|
|Chelone lyonii||Pink Turtlehead||2-3 ft||1 ft||No|
|Physostegia virginiana||Fall Obedient Plant||3-4 ft||2-3 ft||No|
|Rudbeckia laciniata||Green Headed Coneflower||3-6 ft.||3-4 ft||Yes|
|Symphyotrichum laeve||Smooth Blue Aster||2-3 ft.||2-3 ft.||Yes|
|Symphyotrichum novae-belgii||New York Aster||3-4 ft.||3 ft.||No|
|Symphyotrichum novae-angliae||New England Aster||3-6 ft.||2-3 ft.||Yes|
|Symphyotrichum Shortii||Short’s Aster||3 ft.||1-1.5 ft.||No|
|Verbesina occidentalis||Yellow Crownbeard||3-4 ft.||1.5-2 ft.||Yes|
|Vernonia noveboracensis||New York Ironweed||4-8 ft.||2-4 ft.||Yes|