Invasive Plants to Avoid in the Bee Garden

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When planning a garden for bees – do your research and avoid invasive plants that bees like. Not every flowering plant is a good choice. When invasive plants are introduced into an area (where it does not normally grow) it may take over. It may provide some food for bees but it is bad for the ecosystem in the end. That’s why invasive plants are bad for bees and other pollinators in the long run.

Purple loosestrife an invasive plant attractive to bees growing in a meadow.

In an effort to provide an area full of the best flowers for bees – it is common to aim for plant diversity. But, a plant that is good in one region – may cause problems in another growing zone.

How Invasive Plants Threaten Bees

An invasive species (be it plant or animal etc.) adapts very easily to a new area. It is not native to the region in question. But, capable of rapid reproduction, it causes harm to native plants and animals.

Therefore, it seems easy to say that invasive plants are always bad? The problem is that some of these plants are not only attractive to bees but major food sources.

In fact these “bee plants” become desirable (at least to beekeepers). Beekeepers may harvest large honey crops from some of these species. In some cases, their business model depends on the nectar source.

Damage to Natural Ecosystem

We know that a problem exists involving loss of bee habitat. So what if some plants are a little aggressive, if they are feeding bees what is the problem? As usual, the answer is not a simple one.

In certain situations, invasive plants actually create bad living conditions for bees. In large numbers, they can:

  • create monocultures
  • smother out native plants that may bloom longer

How can a plant that provides pounds of nectar be a bad thing for a honey bee colony? When introduced into a new area, invasives often out-compete native plants.

They crowd out other types of growth and use the soil resources, water and even sunlight. This creates monocultures.

A large area of one nectar source blooming all at one time is not the best food source. Bad nutrition is the result of bees eating only one food profile.

Also, if the invasive plant is more attractive to pollinators, native plants may suffer. Honey bee pollination is important to some plants. No bee visits means they may not be pollinated well.

As they fail to produce seed, native plants with a longer bloom period may disappear from the local landscape. This creates an environment that provides large honey harvests but unhealthy bee colonies.

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Native insects also suffer – Bumble bees etc. Is the short-term gain worth the long-term loss? The scope of the problem depends on who you ask.

List of Invasive Plants that Attract Bees

In no particular order, let’s look at some of the most notable problem plants. They are considered aggressive or invasive in many regions even though some are beneficial to bees. Check with your local agricultural resources to learn their status in your area.

Privet in bloom on streambank near farm image.

Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) is a popular shrub that has many different varieties. It is also one of the worse invasive shrubs in the eastern US. Forming dense thickets, it displaces many native species.

Bees love privet in my area and produce a light colored honey. Some varieties of privet produce honey with a detectable scent and taste that not all honey consumers enjoy. Yet, the bees don’t seem to mind and enjoy the bountiful food source.

Fall leaves and white seed pods of invasive popcorn tree chinese tallow image.

Chinese Tallow (Triadica sebifera) is a fast growing tree native to Asia. It has become widespread through parts of the southeastern US. Chinese Tallow trees produce small flowers in Spring.

They are commonly called “popcorn trees”. This is due to the resulting seed pods that remain attached to the limbs into Winter. The tree is considered by many to be one of the most aggressive weeds in the US.

Attempts to eradicate Chinese Tallow in some South states has been met with considerable angst from beekeepers. Chinese Tallow provides valuable forage for honey bees and other pollinators.

White blooms of japanese knotweed plant image.

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) is an herbaceous perennial. Similar in appearance to bamboo, it is actually a member of the grass family. In some regions, it is in bloom when no other plants are and provides needed food for bees.

The World Conservation Union includes Japanese Knotweed on its top 100 worst invasive plants. It can grow 5-8 feet tall and forms a dense bush with pretty cream-colored flowers.

Purple blooms on invasive kudzu.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is native to China, Japan and the Pacific Islands. This plant needs no introduction to those of us living in the Southern region of the US.

An aggressive grower that seems to actually run across the ground during the warm Summer months. It is responsible for killing many native trees and shrubs as it climbs and blocks the sunlight.

Did you know that Kudzu blooms? It does and honey bees will harvest the nectar-though the blooms are not highly attractive to my bees.

I have tasted Kudzu honey and it has a slight grape flavor and maybe a blue tint. But not as dark as the purple honey found in some regions.

Still seriously, who wants more kudzu in their area? I would think that no one who is familiar with this plant would knowingly bring it home.

Wild growing mimosa trees image.

Mimosa (Silk Tree) Albizia julibrissin: Native to China, the Mimosa tree is a beautiful ornamental tree. The fern-like foliage, showy flowers and sweet fragrance has made it a landscaping favorite.

However, it is a messy tree dropping flowers and seeds and is prone to broken branches. And, yes it is invasive. Having escaped cultivation, you can find Mimosa growing wild across the landscape.

In the wild, this tree develops dense foliage and shades out many bee friendly native shrubs and grasses. Mimosa blooms can benefit honey bees and other insect pollinators by providing nectar.

Mimosa honey is creamy and sweet with a distinct smell and aftertaste. But, this tree is not a major source of nectar in most regions. For most, the problems outweigh the benefits of growing this tree.

Field of purple loosetrife in bloom.

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria): This plant is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It was brought to American for ornamental and medicinal uses in the 1800’s.

A wetland plant, it is an aggressive grower in most states and propagates by underground stems and seed. One plant can produce 2 million seeds in a season.

This beautiful plant with purple spikes of flowers is very attractive to bees. The nectar results in a dark honey that can be sold or left to feed the bees.

Some states are using imported European Beetles and other methods to attempt control of Purple Loosestrife.

Wild growth of blooming multiflora rose in wooded area.

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) is a shrub type plant that is native to China, Japan and Korea. It was originally used by the US horticultural industry as root stock for rose breeding programs.

It was also used by the USDA for erosion control and natural barriers (living fence) for livestock.

The mid-Summer flowers are visited by honey bees and other pollinators providing some food. Personally, I do not have any problem with this bee friendly shrub.

However, left to its own devices I understand how the thorny limbs could create an issue. If you have Multiflora Rose in your area, try to keep it trimmed and under control.

Pink flowers of invasive saltcedar Tamarisk trees image.

Tamarisk Trees (Tamarix ramosissima ) Also called “Saltcedar” is referred to by some as the “Monster of the Southwest”. These trees are very invasive in areas of central Arizona. They suck up large amounts of water from the desert landscape.

They also spread rapidly and are hard to eradicate – taking up space where useful foraging grasses could grow.

The feathery pink flowers of the Tamarisk attract numerous bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds. They provide large amounts of forage at a times of nectar dearth or drought.

Lilac blooms on invasive water hyacinth plants in a pond.

Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes): Beautiful in your water garden but a big problem in the wild. This beautiful water plant is native to South America and was introduced into the United States as an ornamental.

It grows quickly and clogs waterways crowding out native plants. Here in SC, it has such a bad reputation – it is illegal to purchase.

Water bodies of the lower regions become covered with a thick mat during Summer. However, in northern areas of the state, Water Hyacinth dies out during the cold Winter. Bees are attracted to its purple bloom.

FAQs

What defines a plant as invasive?

Invasive plants are non-native species that aggressively spread and outcompete native vegetation, disrupting local ecosystems.

Do honey bees like Mimosa trees?

Yes, honey bees will visit Mimosa trees and gather nectar. But, the tree is invasive in most areas.

Can bees make honey from an invasive plant like Privet?

Yes, honey bees collect abundant nectar from invasive privet plants. It has a characteristic smell and taste that some people do not prefer.

If a bee plant is listed invasive in some regions, does that mean I should not plant it?

No, climate and growing conditions play a big role in the threat of invasive plants. Those that cause problems in some areas – may be okay to grow in others.

Why are invasive plants harmful to bee populations?

While some invasive plants may provide abundant nectar and pollen for bees, they can also create monocultures, reducing biodiversity and harming native plant species that bees depend on for food.

Final Thoughts

We can all recognize the benefits and problems caused by some of these aggressive plants. But, not all beekeepers will be on board with efforts to completely eliminate these plants.

In some regions, the nectar from an invasive plant makes the difference between profit and loss for the year. I can understand the dilemma facing these bee farms with businesses.

It is the good environmental citizen that gives serious thought to plant choice – whether you are a beekeeper or not.

As you choose trees for bees or shrubs for the landscape, do you homework before planting. Try to avoid seeds or transplants that will cause harm to your local ecosystem.