Sources of Nectar
Honey bees forage on many plants for nectar or pollen. All of these sources provide food for the colony. The number of plants that produce large quantities of surplus nectar for a honey crop are quite limited. Most of the honey produced in the United States is made from nectar that was collected from about 100 plant species.
In Tennessee, the clovers are the number one source of nectar. White dutch, crimson, white sweet and yellow sweet clovers are some of the surplus nectar sources. Alfalfa and vetch are related leguminous honey plants.
The tulip-poplar tree is the second largest supplier of nectar for honey production (the bees collect large quantities of nectar from this tree which blooms in early May).
Sourwood honey is the most popular honey in Tennessee. A large surplus of sourwood honey is produced once every five to seven years in the higher elevations. In most years, bees store one to two supers of sourwood honey per colony.
Weeds and wild flowers also produce surplus nectar. The honey produced is quite varied from one area to another because of the plants, soil and climatic conditions.
Soybean is the number one agricultural row crop grown in Tennessee. Two and one-half to three million acres of soybeans are grown in Tennessee. The areas with fertile soil that produce 50 or more bushels of soybeans per acre produce large quantities of surplus honey. The surplus honey produced is less in areas where the soil fertility levels are low.
Cotton is another surplus honey source in a number of West Tennessee counties. Frequent spraying of cotton for insect control is a hazard to bees foraging in the cotton fields.
Tennessee has a variety of plants that provide nectar and pollen for honey bee colonies.
Many of these plants are limited in acreage. The major honey plants that produce a honey crop are few in number, but all of these plants and some others are important sources of food for honey bee colonies.
The following is not a complete listing of all the plants on which you may observe honey bees foraging for nectar or pollen. However, the plants marked with an asterisk (*) provide most of the nectar for our honey crops.
Abelia, Alfalfa*, Apple, Asters*, Azaleas, Barberry Juliane, Basswood*, Beggarweed*, Blackberry, Buck bush*, Bush Honeysuckle, Cantaloupe, Catalpa, Crimson Clovers, Ladino Clovers, Sweet Yellow Clovers*, Sweet White Clovers*, Dutch White Clovers*, Corn, Cotton*, Crab Apple, Crepe Myrtle, Cucumbers, Dandelion, Dark Opal, Elm, Elaeagnus, Tupelo Gum, Golden Rain Tree, Goldenrod*, Hollies, Winter Jasmine, Japonica, Black Locust*, and Lilacs. Also Lima Beans*, Maples, Mahonia, Milkweed, Tulip Poplar*, Peach, Pear, Fringed White Phacelia, Purple Phacelia, Persimmon*, Hedge Privets, Flowering Quince, Redbud, Sourwood*, Smartweed*, Spirea, Sunflower, Soybeans*, Spanish Needle, Sumac*, Squash, Thistle, Vitex, Crown Vetch, Hairy Vetch*, Watermelon, Wisteria and Willows.