NORTH AMERICAN HONEY PLANTS
Definition of a Honey Plant — Species Widely Different — Relation of Honey Plants to Soil — Influence of Latitude on Blooming-Time — Relative Importance of the Honey Plants — Great Opportunity for Growth of Bee Culture — Variety of Honeys.
A honey plant may be defined as a common plant which secretes nectar accessible to honeybees in quantities sufficiently large to be of importance to beekeepers. There are in North America, north of Mexico, more than 15,000 kinds of flowering plants, so that, if a list of all plants secreting nectar were desirable, it would be easy to enumerate thousands of species; but very few of them would be of much practical importance to bee culture. Many are rare, others grow in the deep recesses of forests and swamps, while others yield so little nectar that honeybees pass them by unheeded. The buttercups and daisies, which are so conspicuous in June, receive little attention from bees. Potatoes, which are grown by the million acres, secrete no nectar and afford very little pollen, and are seldom visited by insects. Tomatoes are likewise nectarless. The hardhack and the meadowsweet, two of the commonest of shrubs, are almost wholly neglected by honeybees. The bunchberry covers large areas in open woodlands; but the small flowers contain so little nectar that bumblebees ignore them entirely, and honeybees visit them only occasionally. They are left to flies, beetles, and the smaller bees. Then there are many flowers which are adapted to moths, butterflies, bumblebees, and humming-birds, which have the nectar so deeply concealed that it can not be reached by honeybees. Thus the number of species which deserve to be classed as honey plants is comparatively small, not much exceeding 200 in America, north of Mexico, according to present records; while the number which yield a surplus annually is much less.
The only characteristics that the honey plants have in common are that they secrete nectar accessible to honeybees, more or less freely, and are common in one or more localities. Otherwise they exhibit great differences. They belong to widely separated families; include herbs, shrubs and trees, native and exotic species, and wild and cultivated plants. Some are merely local in occurrence; others extend over a large area; and still others occur in several locations far apart. The pulse family, or Leguminosae, contains the most important species, as the acacias, clovers, alfalfa, sweet clover, and locust, while they are wholly absent from the great family of orchids. After the pulse family, the Compositae contain the largest number of honey plants, as the goldenrods, asters, thoroughworts, sunflowers, and thistles.
Honey plants are likewise very variable in the preference they exhibit for different soils. The tupelo, willows, and buttonbush grow in wet swamps; Spanish needles, sneezeweed, and snowvine in marsh lands; the smooth sumac prefers a rocky soil; the mountain sages live on the arid foothills of California, while sour-wood flourishes in the mountains of the Alleghanies; the cacti are dwellers in the desert; the gallberries avoid a limestone soil, while the clovers will not grow as well elsewhere. The spikeweed and the alkali-weed thrive in an alkaline soil;