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Why Red Maple Trees are Important to Bees

Among the many blooming plants that help bees, the Red Maple tree is one of the most important to honey bee colonies. It is not just because of the food provided by these trees – though they do provide nectar and pollen for hungry pollinator. It is about the timing of the bloom. And, that is why beekeepers in regions with native Red Maples watch for the bloom.

How Red Maple Trees Help Bees

Red blossoms of red maple tree important food for bees image.

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.

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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 for Bees (Pollen too)

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 brood production.

Honey bee with red maple pollen on pollen baskets.

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 is a grey brown to greenish color and can be seen on the pollen baskets of foraging bees.

A colony routinely reduces 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.

The increasing length of the day at this time of year and the influx of fresh pollen and nectar (from Red Maples and other trees bees like) encourage the queen bee to lay more eggs.

Bee larva building up during red maple nectar flow image.

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).

Also, the mid-Winter bloom time occurs when insects can not fly enough to take full advantage of the food source. Some days will be too cold, windy or rainy for the honey bees to fly.

Most beekeepers will not harvest Red Maple honey. 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 February-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.

Bumble Bees Benefit Too!

Honey bees are not the only ones that benefit from this rich food source. Our friend the Bumble Bee may make even better use of Red Maples.

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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.

Vibrant colors of Fall maple tree image.

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 be ready.

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4 Comments

  1. Brian & Linda Woodcock Woodcock says:

    help Your info is helpful. Thanks. Brian.

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Thank you Brian & Linda – beekeeping always has something new to think about!

  3. John Baum says:

    What is known about the persistence of the neonicotinoid dinotefuran in red maple?
    It is well established that dinotefuran is a systemic insecticide.
    Is it known if a bark treatment for scale insects in June of one year results in enough of the insecticide remaining in the tree to render the pollen toxic to pollinator bees the next spring?
    The area of particular interest to me is Charlottesville, VA, where the red maples bloom in early March, or 8-9 months later.
    Thanks
    John

  4. Charlotte Anderson says:

    In complete honestly, I do not know. The fact that pesticides such as these affect bees and other pollinators is a sure thing. The degree to which they affect them is another matter entirely. We want to blame them for many of our bee woes because we want to feel that we have found THE problem. I have not seen a lot of data from impartial sources to show the true answer.

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