Trees for Bees all abuzz about bee health

Posted on June 30, 2014

The future of the world’s food production is under threat and it’s all due to the disappearing honey bee, as across the world they succumb to pests and disease.

The humble honey bee is hugely important to agriculture and farming. As pollinators, they play an essential role in fertilising plants so that they produce food. Without the bee pollination, we wouldn’t enjoy fruits and vegetables like broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, avocado or apples. In fact, one third of every bite of food we eat comes from a plant pollinated by bees.

In New Zealand we are seeing a decline in the number of suitable flowers, trees and plants that bees need to maintain their health. Trees for Bees, an organisation dedicated to promoting bee health, says farmers can help by planting bee-friendly trees. Best of all, many of the plants they recommend can also help with erosion control, shelter, or windbreaks.

To ensure the future of farming, all farmers need to play their part in protecting the honey bee. The bee is one of the hardest workers in horticulture and agriculture. About $3 billion of our GDP is directly attributable to the intensive pollination of horticultural and specialty agricultural crops by bees. In addition there is a huge indirect contribution through the pollination of clover, sown as a nitrogen regeneration source for the land we farm. This benefit flows on to our meat export industry through livestock production and sales.

The beekeeping industry is facing some of its biggest challenges with increasing bee pests and diseases. This is of great concern because, in terms of the food we eat, about a third of the calories and three-quarters of the diversity rely on bees for pollination. The most important issue leading to a bee crisis in NZ is declining floral resources and the subsequent scarcity of quality pollen, which leads to bee malnutrition. The key to good bee health is a continual supply of diverse pollen and nectar from natural sources. Bees consume pollen as a protein and vitamin source and nectar for energy. While gathering these resources, they move pollen from one plant to another thus benefiting the farm by pollinating crops. Availability of quality pollen resources is critical during spring when beekeepers are building up bee populations for pollination services. Any shortfall leads to protein stress that weakens bees, making them more susceptible to diseases and pests (e.g., varroa mite). it also dramatically slows the queens breeding output and this results in low field strength and under-performing pollination services.

Today, farmers can reverse this trend by choosing bee friendly trees and shrubs for planting in waterway margins, windbreaks, field edges, under pivots and along roadsides. Fortunately a number of shelter and erosion control plants have abundant flowers to feed bees so selecting multi-purpose plants is smart farming for healthy bees.

The plants listed below are examples of good Bee Plants that are not on any list of pest plants. Although some plants are good for bees, they are on pest plant lists because they are invasive.(i.e. gorse). Planting them would be detrimental to farmers or to the environment and in some cases even illegal. Lists of pest plants change regularly so it is best to consult your regional authorities.

There are 10 regions in New Zealand for which species lists have been prepared. These can be found by clicking on http://www.treesforbeesnz.org/publications .These lists were published in year 2009.

The following list of species, has been recommended by beekeepers and nurserymen, as being suitable for the Northland/Auckland region.

Native Trees and Shrubs that are ideal for Bees

Native plants are the best choice to increase native biodiversity and benefit both the honey bee and the environment.

  • Cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) — Tree, 15m, Flowers Oct-Dec
  • Five-finger (Pseudopanax arboreus) — Tree, 8m, Flowers Jun-Aug
  • Hangehange (Geniostoma rupestre var .ligustrifolium) Shrub, 3m, Flowers Sep-Nov
  • Heketara (Olearia rani) — Tree/Shrub, 7m, Flowers Aug-Nov
  • Hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) — Tree, 15m, Flowers Oct-Feb
  • Kāmahi (Weinmannia racemosa) — Tree, 20m, Flowers Dec-Jan
  • Kānuka (Kunzea ericoides) — Tree/Shrub, 15m, Flowers Sep-Feb
  • Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium) — Tree, 6m, Flowers Oct-Nov
  • Lacebark (Hoheria populnea) — Tree, 5m, Flowers Mar-Apr-(Jun)
  • Lemonwood (Pittosporum eugenioides) — Tree, 10m, Flowers Oct-Dec
  • Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) – Tree/Shrub, 5m, Flowers Sep-Mar
  • Matagouri (Discaria toumatou) — Tree/Shrub, 5m, Flowers Oct-Jan
  • Mingimingi (Leucopogon fasciculatus) — Shrub, 5m, Flowers Sep-Nov
  • Napaka (Hebe speciosa) — Shrub, 2m
  • Nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida) — Tree, 15m, Flowers Nov-Apr
  • North Island broom (Carmichaelia australis) — Shrub, 2m, Flowers Oct-Feb
  • Harakeke (NZ Flax, Phormium tenax) — Tufted, up to 5m flw stalk, Flowers Nov-Dec
  • Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa) — Tree, 20m, Flowers Dec-Jan
  • Prickly mingimingi (Leptecophylla juniperina) — Shrub, 2m
  • Quintinia (Quintinia serrata) — Tree, 9m, Flowers Oct-Nov
  • Rata (Metrosideros robusta) — Tree, 25m, Flowers Nov-Jan
  • Rewarewa (Knightia excelsa) — Tree, 30m, Flowers Oct-Dec
  • Southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata) – Tree/Shrub, 15m, Flowers Nov-Jan-(Mar)
  • Tāwari (Ixerba brexioides) — Tree, 10m, Flowers Nov-Jan
  • Three-finger (Pseudopanax colensoi) — Tree/Shrub, 5m, Flowers Oct-Mar
  • Weeping kowhai (Sophora microphylla) — Tree, 10m
  • Westland quintinia (Quintinia acutifolia) — Tree, 12m, Flowers Oct-Nov

Non-native Trees and Shrubs that are ideal for Bees

Exotic plants are good choices because many are multi-purpose for farming and have excellent pollen and nectar.

  • Apple (Malus ×domestica) — Tree, Flowers Sep-Nov
  • Peach (Prunus persica) — Tree, Flowers Aug-Oct
  • Pear (Pyrus communis) — Tree, Flowers Sep-Oct
  • Orange (Citrus sinensis) — Tree, 10m, Flowers Jan – Dec
  • Bottlebrush (Callistemon salignus) — Tree/Shrub, Flowers Sept to Feb
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) — Shrub, 1.5m, Flowers Sep-Nov
  • Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) — Tree, 25m, Flowers Aug-Sep
  • Tree lucerne (Chamaecytisus palmensis) — Tree, 5m, Flowers May-Oct
  • Blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus) — Tree, 40m, Flowers Aug-Nov
  • Silver dollar gum (Eucalyptus cinerea) — Tree, 15m, Flowers Dec-Feb
  • Red flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) — Tree, 10m, Flowers Dec-Feb
  • White ironbark (Eucalyptus leucoxylon) — Tree, 30 m, Flowers Mar-Nov

To see additional bee plant species with their flowering times, click on http://www.treesforbeesnz.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/71327/tfb-plant-flowering-times.pdf .

To view the complete Trees for Bees website, click on http://www.treesforbeesnz.org for further information and planting guidelines.