Food for bees in our habitat garden

Fertilized hydrangea flower ©Janet AllenFertilized flowers of oakleaf hydrangea turn pink

What is food for bees? Bees need both nectar, a sugary secretion, and pollen, a protein source.

Once fertilized, flowers stop producing nectar. What would be the point?

Fertilized flowers may even change color, a clear signal to bees to ignore this flower and move on to others.

It's interesting to see the relationship between flowers and their pollinators become so visible.

Bee pollinating scarlet runner bean ©Janet AllenBee pollinating scarlet runner bean

We grow many native herbaceous plants that bees love, especially flowers in bees' favorite colors: white, yellow, blue, and purple.

We've been surprised to find that many of our native shrubs, such as winterberries, have nectar-rich flowers, too, even if their flowers are very small.

Flowers being small is no barrier to having lots of food, but many hybrid flowers created for people's enjoyment—however large and showy they may be—often have little or no nectar, or their flowers are so doubled that no bee could find its way to any food that did exist.

Bumble bee in a jewelweed ©Janet Allen
A bumble bee enjoying a jewelweed's nectar

It's interesting to see that native plants with intricate flower structures can by pollinated by the insects that evolved with them.

I've especially enjoyed watching bees squeeze into our native iris or into the jewelweed flowers, for example.

Plants for each season

Here's just a few of the plants we grow that our bees enjoy:

A surprise

Bumble bees eating pears ©Janet Allen
Bumble bees also ate pears

We were surprised to see how enthusiastically bumble bees ate the pears that dropped from our tree.

These definitely are not the main course for these bees, though. Our native flowers are the most important part of our bee habitat's food supply.