From the Field: Trees for Bees

Last Friday, I visited Mt. Cuba Center botanical garden in Hockessin, DE to give a presentation. Over the past few years, I have had the honor of being invited to Mt. Cuba to talk about pollinators, beneficial insects, and different steps we can all take to improve habitat for these important animals. Each time I visit, I am even more enamored than the last by the magical gardens, wildflower meadows, and woodlands. It is truly a pollinator (and people) paradise in all seasons. I always take a few pictures and share them with friends while I brag about the “view from my office.”

Friday’s presentation was on “Trees for Bees” and it was timed perfectly for talking about value of early spring-blooming trees and shrubs for pollinators and other wildlife. I parked my vehicle gathered my things, and made my way up the path and suddenly realized I have never experienced Mt. Cuba gardens in springtime. It was breathtaking. I almost did not make it into the building. Luckily for me, we were ending the day with a garden tour!

Some of my favorite trees for bees were in bloom including dogwoods (Cornus spp.) and redbud (Cercis canadensis). Several bees visit dogwood flowers and some of our native mining bees (Andrena fragilis, A. integra, A. platyparia) are pollen specialists on dogwood (Fowler 2016). Dogwood berries have high calcium and fat content making them a valuable food for numerous birds. A win/win!


A redbud tree flanked by two flowering dogwood trees. These understory trees, underplanted with native woodland species add critical wildlife supporting layers to the landscape. Photo: Xerces Society / Kelly Gill


I love the bright flowers of redbud, which also attract a variety of visitors including the southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa). This bee resembles a small bumble bee and forages primarily on blueberry plants, but is often seen on redbud before blueberry is in full bloom.

Other species on my list of tress for bees includes pussy willow (Salix discolor), red maple (Acer rubrum), serviceberry (Amelanchier), blueberry (Vaccinium), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), Carolina rose (Rosa carolina), elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus), and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Many of these species also provide nesting sites or nest materials along with floral resources.

Although the topic of the day focused on native trees and shrubs, the spring-blooming, woodland wildflowers completely stole the show in the gardens. If you live in the area, or are willing to travel, I highly recommend visiting for the spectacular spring display.


While the theme of the presentation was “Trees for Bees” – the woodland perennials and spring ephemerals were the real star of the show! Photos: Xerces Society / Kelly Gill



For this presentation, I touched on several of the species in the guide Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees. For more “Trees for Bees” check out the Xerces Society book, 100 Plants to Feed the Bees to learn more about the associations between pollinators and these trees/shrubs and many other plant species.

By Kelly Gill, Pollinator Conservation Specialist – Northeast / Mid-Atlantic Region

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