Among the blooming plants of very Early Spring, the Red Maple tree is one of the most important to honey bee colonies. What are Red Maples so important to bees? It is not just because of the food provided by these trees. It is more about the timing of the bloom. And, that is why beekeepers in regions with native Red Maples watch for the bloom.
As a beekeeper, I am interested in any blooming plants that my bees may visit. Not only the small plants, but even the trees that feed bees have a big impact on colony growth. Those that provide important food during certain times of the year are even more special.
How Red Maple Trees Help Bees
Early spring is the time when over-wintered colonies are in need of fresh nectar and pollen. Even if they are not starving, they feel the need to forage for supplies.
When beekeepers see the Red Maple tree in bloom, we know that Spring has arrived for the honey bee colonies. Yes, it may still be winter on the human calendar. But, the bees are planning for Spring.
Maple nectar is very useful for the growing bee colony. In a bid for pollination, the tiny flowers produce sweet nectar to lure pollinators in. The influx of fresh plant nectar encourages the colony to ramp up production of new bee brood.
Pollen from Red Maples
However, the pollen provided may be just as important. Red Maple trees produce a lot of pollen for over-wintered colonies that are desperate for fresh protein.
The pollen of Red Maples is a grey brown to greenish color and can be seen on the pollen baskets of foraging bees.
What’s this big deal about the early pollen source? Bee colonies routinely reduce the brood nest in late Fall. Shortly after the Winter solstice, life inside the hive begins to change.
The queen bee who may have not been laying eggs at all – starts to lay a few each day.
Do Bees Produce Honey from Red Maple?
While this tree provides important early nectar, most regions will not see an excess honey crop from Red Maple trees.
This is due in part to the fact that the hungry colonies need the fresh nectar (even if they still have stored honey) to feed developing young.
Most beekeepers will not harvest honey from Red Maples. Still, it is a very important food source for our colonies.
For some colonies, on the edge of starvation, it may make the difference between winter survival or death before Spring.
When do Red Maple Trees Bloom?
A valuable early food source for honey bees, red maple blooms appear while winter still has the land in its grip. In fact, they are one of the first blooming native trees.
In my area (upstate South Carolina), this bloom can occur in January some years. But mid February to early March is the most common bloom time. In the native region, the red maple bloom can appear even into May in cooler regions.
Blooms appear first. A reddish tint will begin to show in the tops of the trees. The tiny bloom of the red maple would likely go unnoticed if the tree possessed any leaves.
However, the bare tree limbs hold only the tiny red blossoms. This is opposite of Sugar Maples which leaf out first and then bloom.
Bumble Bees Benefit Too!
Both honey bees and Bumble bees benefit from this rich food source. In fact, Bumbles may make even better use of Red Maples.
Larger and fuzzier than smaller insects, Bumbles also fly in cooler weather. Don’t be surprised if you hear the “rumble from a bumble” in your tree on a warmish January day. They too collect nectar and pollen.
Can You Plant Red Maple Trees for Your Bees?
Sure, you can plant these trees but you may already have them in your region. They are native in many areas of the US.
If you do decide to plant, be sure to choose a location that is good for the tree and will not cause problems for you.
Red Maples reach heights of more than 60 feet and roots can be a problem if planted too close to your home. This is not the best choice for a small backyard.
The best time to plant red maple trees is fall or very early Spring. You can order Red Maples online too. The Red Maple is a fast growing tree. You will have nectar producing red maple blooms in a few short years.
Major Contribution to Bee Colonies
Because Red Maple trees bloom so far ahead of the true nectar season, they help honey bee colonies build up.
A hive needs several weeks of population growth so they can have a full work force ready when true Spring arrives.
Workers spend the first 3 weeks of their lives inside the hive. This means if your area has a major honey flow in April – you need many new foragers reaching adulthood a month before. Early nectar sources help the colonies get ready to make honey.
The early season nectar of red maple trees is very attractive to bees. Not only honey bees but other pollinator insects will visit the blooms.
There are several maple trees that benefit bees. The top three are Red maple (Acer rubrum), Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) and Sugar maple (Acer saccharum).
Red Maples are generally wind pollinated but it is certain that visiting bees aid in pollination too.
A Final Word
As we reach the end of the Winter season, look for slight blushes of red high in the tree tops. Red Maple blooms appear before any leaves. If you are lucky, you may even see some visiting bees collecting nectar on a warmish afternoon.