aorida Bee Botany
_oridaf.^optrt Ektension Service / Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Ji9ersity of Fliridka Gainesville / John T. Woeste, Dean for Extension
Florida Bee Botany
Malcolm T. Sanford
Extension Apiculturist at the University of Florida, Gainesville
Designed and illustrated by
David W. Hall
0 laI v_____ae
red m ple blackber y
black titi (west) oldenrod
gallberry _art idge pea (norti)
crimson clover (n rth) pennyroyal
pennyroyal ci rus sour ood beggar's tick
summ r farewell
summer t ti (west)
whi e tupelo (wes
'5 fetterbush gopher apI le
= _seagra _e seagrape
white Du ch clover Mexican cl ver
chinquapin prairiee sunflower
Nt ttall's thistle
Ssaw p ilmetto
black mangr ve
coral vine cora vine coral vine
Brazilian pep er
melaleuca (south) melaleuca (south)
misc. spring flowers misc. summe flowers misc. fall flowers
4 4 4
3 3 3 3 3 3 3
2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2
= E .
m S Inspect for disease, Add supers is needed Remove sul ers; extract pa k honey. Add supers or fall flow. R .-queen. Inspect and arrange
E laying que n and to prevent s farming. Re-queen. nest for wir ter.
*thousands of bees
Fig. 1. Beekeeper's Calendar.
naJ Feb March
Au ust Se t
This publication names and describes the most
important bee plants found in the state of Florida and
contains their approximate distribution and bloom-
ing date. With this information, beekeepers should
be able to manage their colonies better and/or move
them to maximize production. Finding locations for
colonies, based on proximity to plants good for honey
production, is both an art and science; it takes careful
observation and often several years of actual bee-
keeping experience at one location to determine suit-
ability. In this regard, the beekeeper must learn to
become a careful experimenter and observer of plants
at various locations.
Plants that profusely produce nectar and/or pollen
in one location may not in another for a number of
reasons including differences in soil moisture, pH,
constituents and fertility. These factors are also
affected by climatic conditions such as rainfall distri-
bution, temperature and relative humidity (see A
Florida Beekeeping Almanac, Cooperative Extension
Circular 537 for details). A calendar of beekeeping
events (Figure 1) correlates bee population and bee-
keeping management with the flowering of important
Over the last four decades, there has been an over-
all decrease in honey bee forage plants throughout
the United States. This is principally a result of
changing agricultural patterns and increasing urban
development. Florida is not immune to these prob-
lems, and policy makers need to consider the possible
impact on most Florida native bee plants. A specific
case in point is gallberry, present in vast communi-
ties within low lying swampy areas in the past, but
continuously declining because of forest manage-
ment, agriculture and urbanization, all of which seek
to drain the land and lower the water table.
Although many plants produce pollen for bees, it
is usually nectar-producing species that are of most
interest to beekeepers. Only a few plants are capable
of secreting the vast amount of nectar honey bees
need to produce a honey crop. In Florida, for example,
perhaps fewer than 10 species account for over 90
percent of the state's honey crop, and only one, cit-
rus, is cultivated. The most reliable nectar producers
are citrus, gallberry, tupelo, saw palmetto, punk tree,
Brazilian pepper and sabal (cabbage) palm. Fortu-
nately, in most areas, minor nectar producers are also
found which help support bee populations, although
contributing little toward a surplus honey crop. It
is important to recognize that large tracts of plants
are necessary to produce surplus for just one colony.
The proximity of colonies to desirable plants is also
important: the closer the better.
Of great importance is the knowledge that most
beekeepers must move their colonies two to three
times during the nectar-producing season. Only a few
sites in the state will support bees on a year-round
basis. This seasonal nectar production accounts for
interest on the part of many to plant a succession
of nectar-secreting crops for honey bees. In the past,
this has not been considered economical unless the
crop would also be used for another purpose (e.g.
livestock forage). However, it might pay to experi-
ment on a limited basis with legumes, other cover
crops or even native plants. Two Florida plants, sum-
mer titi and yellow jessamine, are considered harmful
to bees, and areas where they are abundant should
be avoided during flowering.
The plants in this publication are grouped as those
which are 1) reliable nectar producers and responsible
for commercial quantities of honey, 2) generally
important for colony maintenance, 3) undesirable
species, 4) cultivated crops and 5) ornamentals of
present and potential importance.
Major Nectar Plants
Black mangrove, Avicennia germinans (L.) L.
[A. nitida Jacq.] (names in brackets following the
genus and species are incorrect although commonly
used), fringes coastal areas from Levy County on the
west coast of north central peninsular Florida to the
Keys and up the east coast as far as Volusia County
in the central peninsula. It is considered one of the
state's better nectar sources. Blooming in June and
July, it produces surpluses almost every year. This
nectar source has greatly declined over the years
because of intensive urbanization, shore development
and severe freezes.
Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi,
or Florida holly is a medium sized shrub, sometimes
growing to tree height. It occurs throughout south-
ern peninsular Florida and blooms from August to
October. This is one of Florida's best nectar-
producing plants. The honey has a distinct "peppery"
taste and is not considered by many to be of a table
grade, but is accepted well locally.
Cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto (Walt.) Lodd. ex
Schultes, sometimes called cabbage palmetto, is the
state tree of Florida. It can be found throughout
peninsular Florida, north to South Carolina and
westward along the Gulf Coast. If summer rains do
not interfere, bees usually take nectar from cabbage
palms in June and July.
Gallberry, Ilex glabra (L.) A. Gray, is a common
understory shrub of the flatwoods. It occurs
throughout the state and blooms from March to May.
It is a reliable nectar source, and is considered one
of the finest in Florida. Too much rain during the
blooming period or dryness prior to blooming,
however, will result in less nectar production.
Punk tree or cajeput, Melaleuca quinquenervia
(Cav.) S. T. Blake, is a relative of eucalyptus and
native to Australia. It is a plant that has escaped
from cultivation. It grows in abundance in southern
Florida and has become the source of much contro-
versy. The species has been blamed for initiating
human respiratory problems, crowding out native
plant species and "drying up" wet areas (e.g. the
Everglades). It may bloom several times a year and
is valuable for sustaining colonies during nectar
dearth. It produces surpluses in August. The honey
is considered distasteful by some, but a market exists
locally for the product.
Saw palmetto, Serenoa repens (Bartr.) Small, is an
understory plant occurring throughout the state in
low pinelands. It is also one of Florida's superior
nectar sources and has a reputation for producing
surplus honey crops. The honey is light green to
amber and often has a high moisture content.
White tupelo, Nyssa ogeche Bartr. ex Marsh.,
sometimes called Ogeechee lime, is a small to medium
tree with a buttressed base, principally found along
the shores of streams and lakes from St. Johns to
Levy Counties in north peninsular Florida and west
to Holmes County in the West Florida panhandle. It
blooms from April to May and is one of the better
nectar sources in Florida; the resultant honey is often
in demand because of its light color and resistance
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Minor Nectar Plants I I
Common beggar's-tick, Bidens alba (L.) DC.
(mistakenly called Spanish needles which is B. bipin-
nata L.), is found throughout Florida. The plant is
an annual with numerous flowering heads containing
white rays and a yellow center. It flowers throughout
the year, except where exposed to frost, and is an ex-
cellent nectar producer in late summer.
Seagrape, Coccoloba uvifera (L.) L., is a small,
spreading tree found in the shelter of coastal dunes
from Pinellas County on the central peninsular west
coast, south to the Keys, and north on the central
peninsular east coast to Volusia County. It flowers
from April to July and is a good nectar producer, but
because of insignificant numbers of plants is not a
major nectar source.
Flat-topped goldenrod, Euthamia minor (Michx.)
Greene [Solidago microcephala (Green) Bush], is a
common yellow flower found in abandoned fields and
waste areas throughout the state. It flowers from
September to November and may produce a surplus
of honey in the central and southern part of penin-
sular Florida. A word of caution: spiked goldenrod
(Solidago spp.) often blooming at the same time and
seen in conjunction with the flat-topped variety is not
a good nectar producer in Florida, as it is in the
midwestern United States.
Philippine chaste tree, Vitex negundo L., and
chaste tree, Vitex agnus-castus L., are native to Asia
and cultivated in Florida. They flower from June to
October, making them good plants during the sum-
mer when there is a general lack of nectar. However,
few plants exist and rarely are they found in dense
enough stands to produce surplus honey.
Mexican clover, Richardia scabra L., Florida pusley
and also more commonly Brazilian pusley, Richardia
brasiliensis (Moq.) Gomes, are small white-flowered
plants found in cultivated and disturbed areas mainly
in the northern half of the state. They bloom from
May to September, and the nectar usually serves as
overwintering food for colonies.
Partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata (Michx.)
Greene [Cassia fasciculata Michx.], is a low growing
plant found throughout the state. The flowers bloom
from June to September. Nectar is produced only
when growing in heavy red clay soil, predominantly
in the northern Florida panhandle. The plant has
extrafloral nectaries (i.e. located on the leaf stalk
rather than the flower), and the nectar yield varies
from year to year.
Red maple, Acer rubrum L., sometimes called
swamp maple, occurs throughout Florida. This tree
blooms in January and February and is one of the
first sources of nectar and pollen each year. The
small, red flowers give way to two-winged fruits. The
plant may produce a surplus honey crop in some
years, but usually it is consumed by the bees during
Pepper vine, Ampelopsis arborea (L.) Koehne, a
woody vine found in moist areas throughout the
state, is a relative of the grape. It blooms in spring
and early summer.
Prairie sunflower, Helianthus agrestis Pollard,
sometimes called annual wild sunflower, is found only
in peninsular Florida, usually from Hendry County
near Lake Okeechobee as far north as Volusia
County. It blooms from August to October, is associ-
ated with old fields or swamp margins and produces
more nectar in the southern part of its range. This
plant was more important as a source of nectar before
much of its habitat was drained for agricultural
Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum (L.) DC., occurs
in the western Florida panhandle. It blooms from
MINOR continued on page 12
i .. ,
Prairie Sunflower ,I
/r iL Seagrape
I u l
Major Nectar Plants
Minor Nectar Plants
MINOR continued from page 5
June to July, but little honey is produced; most sour-
wood honey is produced at higher elevations in the
Appalachian mountains of northern Georgia, the
Carolinas and Tennessee.
Fetterbush, Lyonia lucida (Lam.) K. Koch, is a low
pinelands shrub found from Broward County in the
southeastern peninsula northward. It blooms in
February and April, just prior to gallberry flowering.
Honey produced from this plant is said to have a
Gopher apple, Licania michauxii Prance
[Chrysobalanus oblongifolius Michx.], is a low,
creeping shrub associated with dry soils throughout
Florida. It blooms from May to June and yields a
light colored honey. Gopher apple is not considered
a reliable source of nectar, contributing mostly to
Nuttall's thistle, Cirsium nuttallii DC., is a tall
biennial, occurring in southeast peninsular Florida
from Broward County north to the Georgia border.
It blooms from May to June. The plant generally
does not grow in dense stands and contributes only
to colony maintenance. The honey is mild in flavor.
Formerly, the plant was an important nectar source
near Lake Okeechobee and the resultant honey was
considered to be of high quality.
Florida pennyroyal, Piloblephis rigida (Bartr. ex
Benth.) Raf. [Pycnothymus rigidus (Bartr. ex Benth.)
Small], is a low growing aromatic plant, occurring in
moist pineland from Alachua County in north central
peninsular Florida southwards. It blooms from
November to April. In the past this was a good nec-
tar producer, but it no longer is considered reliable.
Buckwheat tree, Cliftonia monophylla (Lam.) Britt.
ax. Sarg., or black titi, often called spring titi, is
prolific in the western Florida panhandle, east to
Jefferson County. It blooms from February to April
and often contributes to a surplus honey crop. Begin-
ning beekeepers should not confuse its common name
with the summer titi, Cyrilla racemiflora L., an unde-
sirable plant (described elsewhere in this publication)
which causes "purple brood."
Buttonbush, Celphalanthus occidentalis L., is a
small tree, found in wet places throughout the state.
It blooms from March to July and produces nectar in
central and south peninsular Florida, but not in quan-
tities necessary for commercial honey production.
Coral vine, Antigonon leptopus Hook. & Am., is
an ornamental vine, native to tropical America, which
often escapes cultivation. It has a prolonged bloom-
ing period (all year in the south), is a member of the
buckwheat family and produces a dark colored honey.
Where it occurs in dense stands a honey surplus can
sometimes be obtained.
Summer farewell, Dalea pinnata (Walt. ex J. F.
Gmel.) Barneby [Petalostemon pinnatum (Walt. ex
J. F. Gmel.) Blake], is a perennial with compact
heads, occurring in peninsular Florida, from High-
lands County in central peninsular Florida north-
wards. It blooms from September to October and is
a source of winter food for colonies.
Chinquapin, Castanea pumila (L.) Mill., is a low
shrub, found on moist to dry soils south to Orange
County. It blooms from March to June, prior to par-
tridge pea, and may contribute a bitter flavor to
partridge pea honey.
Carolina willow, Salix caroliniana Michx., is a
shrub or tree common to wetlands throughout
Florida. It blooms from February to March and is
responsible for providing pollen and nectar to colo-
nies. It often produces a surplus honey crop in south
White titi, Cyrilla racemiflora L., often called sum-
mer titi, is a common small tree or shrub, found in
swamps and on stream banks from Highlands
County in central peninsular Florida northwards. It
blooms from May to July. It usually produces little
nectar, but in good years is considered undesirable
because the nectar and pollen are responsible for a
condition known as "purple brood." Apparently the
plant's products are responsible for killing the brood,
turning it a rich purple color. In areas where summer
titi abounds and there is a history of such problems
(Taylor and Jefferson Counties in the Florida pan-
handle), beekeepers routinely move their bees away
or feed colonies sugar syrup during the blooming
season. This plant should not be confused with spring
titi (buckwheat tree) found in the same areas, which
is an excellent honey plant and blooms in early
Yellow jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens (L.)
J. St. Hil., is a woody vine, occurring from Highlands
County in central peninsular Florida northwards. It
blooms from February to March. It has been reported
as being toxic to honey bees and responsible for
reducing colony strength in some areas.
Cultivated Crop Plants
Citrus is a major honey plant in Florida, although
the quality and quantity of nectar may vary consider-
ably each year. Orange appears to produce more nec-
tar than other varieties of citrus and the resultant
honey is distinctive in flavor and aroma. Citrus may
bloom as early as February and as late as April (aver-
age bloom date is March 15). Under ideal conditions,
the flowers may last as long as four weeks. A second
flowering may occur in June, but is not as heavy or
as reliable as the one in the early spring.
Several other cultivated crop plants show promise
as nectar sources in Florida, especially those that
produce well in other parts of the United States, but
little information exists on exact conditions neces-
sary for maximum nectar secretion. Following is a
partial listing of plants that should be investigated
by beekeepers with regard to bee visitation and con-
ditions (e.g. temperature, rainfall) for maximum nec-
tar production: alyce clover, avocado, blueberries,
(Hubam) sweet clover, clover (crimson, red, white),
cowpeas, cucurbits (cucumbers, watermelons,
squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes), hairy indigo, lespe-
deza, mangoes, snapbeans, birdsfoot trefoil and
In both urban and rural areas, planting nectar-
yielding ornamentals can provide bees with food
resources necessary for colony maintenance. In some
cases, these plants may even provide surplus honey.
A selection of ornamental plants is listed here along
with abbreviated information on propagation and
where in Florida they should be planted (N, C and
S refer to north, central and south, respectively).
American holly, Ilex opaca Ait., N-C-S, is an excel-
lent nectar source, blooming in early spring.
American redbud, Cercis canadensis L., N-C, is a
small tree that can be transplanted or propagated
from seed. It blooms in the spring.
Chinese holly, Ilex cornuta L., N-C, is a dark green
tree desirable for its color and berry production. It
is propagated by cuttings or seed.
Chinese tallow tree, Sapium sebiferum (L.) Roxb.,
N-C-S, is a fine shade tree which can be propagated
by seed or cuttings.
Scrub holly, Ilex cumulicola Small, N-C-S, is a small
holly, which can be transplanted or propagated by
Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera L., N-C, is a fast-
growing tree that is a major nectar source from the
piedmont of Georgia northward. It can be trans-
planted. Generally it is most abundant along water
Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora L., N-C,
is a large slow-growing evergreen shade tree. It can
be transplanted, but recovers slowly.
Cassava, Manihot grahamii Hook, N-C-S, is a small
tree, generally propagated by seed.
Sweet bay, Magnolia virginiana L., N-C-S, is
similar to southern magnolia described above.
Shrubs and Small Trees
Glossy abelia, Abelia grandiflora L., N, is good for
base plantings, hedges and borders. It can be propa-
gated by cuttings and withstands partial shade.
Privets and ligustrums, Ligustrum spp., N-C-S, are
used in hedges and borders. They can be propagated
by seeds or cuttings.
Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria Ait., N-C, is a foundation
or screen plant, propagated by seeds or cuttings, but
difficult to transplant.
Sweet acacia, Acacia farnesiana L., C-S, is a thorny,
bushy shrub, generally found along the coast. It is
propagated by seed.
Common mesquite, Prosopis chilensis L., is a
bushy shrub planted along Florida's east coast as a
nectar source. It is propagated by seed.
Caution: some of the plants above may be pro-
tected. Always check with your local
forestry officer or appropriate officials
before collecting plants from native areas.
Florida conditions are diverse, ranging from cool
temperate in the extreme north to subtropical in the
south. Additionally, extensive coastal areas have to
be considered. Because of this climatic variation, it
is not practical to list all possible plants that might
contribute to the welfare of the honey bee. The follow-
ing list of references will aid the beekeeper who
wishes additional information on nectar and pollen
resources in Florida.
Arnold, Lillian. 1954. Some Honey Plants of Florida,
University of Florida, Agricultural Experiment
Bulletin 548, Gainesville, FL.
Morton, Julia. 1964. "Honeybee Plants of South
Florida," Proceedings of the 77th Annual Meeting
of the Florida State Horticultural Society, Miami
Beach, Vol. 77: 415-436.
Lovell, Harvey. 1966. Honey Plants Manual, A. I.
Root Co., Medina, OH.
Oertel, Everett. 1980. "Nectar and Pollen Plants,"
in Agriculture Handbook 335, Beekeeping in the
United States, United States Department of Agri-
culture, Washington, D.C., 16-24.
Ordetx, Gonzalo. 1952. Flora Apicola de America
Tropical, La Habana, Cuba: Editorial Lex.
Robinson, Frank and Everett Oertel. 1975. "Sources
of Nectar and Pollen," in The Hive and the Honey
Bee, Dadant and Sons, Inc., Hamilton, IL, 283-303.
This publication was produced at a cost of $2970.85, or $1.10 per copy, to inform beekeepers and the
general public about plants important to honey bees. 6-27M-86
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, K.R. Tefertiller,
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