Crabapples in bloom along a driveway

“In the village, a sage should go about
Like a bee, which, not harming
Flower, colour or scent,
Flies off with the nectar.”
― Anonymous

As March begins and weather starts to warm up, not only plants are awakening from their slumber. Also beginning to stir are many native and non- native bee species including Collettes ssp. Bombus spp.Honey bees, Andrena spp. and Megachile spp. These bees need flowers available for nourishment and food stores for their nesting chambers starting as early as March. Plants that support bees in spring may be native and non-native, wild and cultivated, weeds or ornamentals. The following are just a handful of plants that can be especially helpful in supporting bees from March- May.

Native bee on a dandelion flower

There are several non-native plants that flower in early March and are visited by bees- crocus, Whitlow grass, dandelions, Cornell pink azalea and daffodils. In the early spring, blooms are few and far between, and while daffodils are not usually considered pollinator plants, bees like honeybees will visit daffodil flowers if there is not much else around. The Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’ azalea is one of the first azaleas to bloom here in Connecticut. Loaded with pink blooms, many species of pollinators, not just bees, will visit these flowers.

‘Cornell Pink’ Azalea is one of the first cultivated azaleas to bloom in the spring

Korean Spice Viburnum Viburnum carlesii blooms in April and has abundant clusters of extremely fragrant flowers that attract many pollinators. Arrowwood viburnum is also a spring bloomer and is native.

Korean spicebush Viburnum has extremely fragrant flowers

Amelanchier canadensis, shadblow serviceberry, is a small tree or multi- stemmed shrub that flowers in April. Both bees and butterflies will visit the flowers.


Crabapples, black cherry and flowering plum attract many bee species and other pollinators in late April- May, including Osmia spp. like the red mason bee, Osmia bicornis. Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry, is a small tree or large shrub that blooms in late winter or early spring. Clusters of small yellow flowers appear before the leaves. Andrena bees, native specialist pollinators, visit these flowers.

Cornus mas

Dandelions and dead nettles, while considered weeds in a lawn, attract many spring pollinator species and a few in a lawn should not be the end of the world…

Bumblebee on dead nettle

Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, is a non-native evergreen shrub that can bloom from March- June, depending upon the cultivar. Flowers are white or shades of red and resemble the urnlike tubular flowers of blueberry.

Japanese Andromeda

Bloodroot is a low growing native perennial that can bloom in April. Many bees, especially Megachile spp. and Coletes spp. visit flowers of this open woodland species. There are many other native perennials that have early blooms that support bees. Including Solomon’s seal, Geranium maculatum (cranesbill), and columbine that are all shade tolerant.

Native bloodroot
Solomon’s seal attracts bumblebees and hummingbirds

Cornus florida, the native flowering dogwood tree blooms usually by mid-May. The native dogwood has white flowers and an open, layered form in forest understories, while cultivars may have pink to red flowers and various sizes and growth habits. Red maples are among the earliest maples to flower and bees will visit the flowers readily.

Flowering dogwood ‘Cheyenne Brave’
Red maple flower

There are many more plants that will support bees in the landscape whether natural or cultivated.  Consider planting a few of these, if you have the room and a desire for a little splash of color in the spring garden. I wonder if Ray Bradbury was right, when he wrote in “Dandelion Wine”-  “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”?

Native columbine and Geranium Maculatum along a country road
Carpenter bee on native redbud

Pamm Cooper

A list of good plants for spring pollinators:

Acer (maples)         Phlox                    Lupine                        Alders              Lilac

Amelanchier           Violets                  Eastern redbud        Spicebush       Cornus spp.

Salix (willow)          Columbine           Cranesbill                  Sassafras         Currant            

Blueberry                Chokecherry        Cornus mas              Hyacinth          Raspberry  

Basswood                Crabapple            Trillium                     Dandelion       Phlox 

Crocus                      Viola spp.             Currant                    Dead nettle     Prunus spp.     


Spring is busting out all over. This week we have jumped from the cooler temperatures right into the warmth of summer like weather. It is almost like we didn’t even have a spring after that long winter. For plants, this means a huge jump in pushing out their spring flowers and leaves quickly, denying us the weeks of leisurely enjoying the blossoms as they slowly open, instead now they are rushing to develop as the heat is hitting. The plants are as rushed as we are. This week, two of my favorite spring bloomers, Shadblow and Cornell Pink Azalea, popped open and are already starting to fade after just a few days.

amelanchier flowers Pamm's photo

Amelanchier flowers Pamm Cooper photo

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canandensis, aka Shadblow. Photo by Pamm Cooper

Amelanchier canadensis is commonly called Serviceberry or Shadblow is a wonderful small, native tree.Other names for the shrub or small tree are Juneberry, saskatoon, and sugarplum.  The tree grows to only 20 feet and appears airy with leaves on the smaller side of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches long and one inch wide.It looks good in all seasons with its grey, striped bark and multi-stemmed habit. In the wild, colonies form into a thicket when it is left to produce suckers from the bottom. Single plants can be pruned up into a tree form. Serviceberry is hardy to zone 3 growing from Maine south to the Carolinas. It can be found in swamps, water edges and bogs as it likes wet feet and moist soil. However I have seen it grow happily, even thriving in drier situations proving its adaptability. The white spring flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with obovate petals. The flowers come out before the leaves emerge. After flower petals drop, red fruit is produce during the summer. The fruit will turn black when ripe. The fruit is tasty and edible, but difficult to harvest before the birds strip the tree clean. The leaves are a common host for several caterpillars ensuring a population of butterflies nearby.

The common name Shadblow comes from the timing of the white flowers blowing on the wind at the same time the shad fish are spawning in the Connecticut River. This might just be local folklore, but I have heard it many times from shad fishermen. Several named varieties are in cultivation and marketed under the names and description as follows.

‘Glennform’ (Rainbow Pillar®) – Has an more upright, shrubby growth habit, good for hedging. 20 feet tall.

‘Prince William’– Shrub habit, 10 feet tall, with good, multi-colored fall leaves and good fruit set.

‘Sprizam’ (Spring Glory®) – A compact shrub, 12 feet tall, 8-10 feet wide with yellow-orange fall leaves.

‘Trazam’ (Tradition®) – More of a tree variety, growing 25 feet tall with a central leader and good fall color.

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea, Rhododendron mucronulatum, Pamm Cooper photo

Cornell Pink Azalea is an early spring bloomer bursting out in clear pink blossoms before it puts out leaves. Usually covered with flowers from bottom of stems to their tops. Their are several varieties of Rhododendron mucronulatum but Cornell Pink is most commonly found in the trade. There is also a variety sold as  ‘Storrs Pink’ but appears to be the same as ‘Cornell Pink’. Both are very reliable, hardy plants, providing bright, spring color every year. The shrub is 4 to 8 feet tall and wide making a nice mound of flowers in the spring and green foliage in the summer. Fall leaves will be yellow to orange before the drop for the winter. Summer fruit is a small capsule, not normally noticed or significant.

Rhodendron mucronulatum is native to China, Korea and Japan. It is hardy to zone 4 and prefers full sun to light shade for best flower show. Provide good drainage, acidic soil and high organic matter to keep this shrub going strong. It looks beautiful in a mass planting in a large space backed up by evergreens.

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Gingko Buds, Photo by Pamm Cooper

Another favorite tree showing its beautiful flower buds is Gingko biloba. This is a male flower on a male tree. The flowers are produced on the shortened spurwood, which are compressed, never growing long. You can see the many years of growth rings just below the bud. Lichen is growing on the stem just below the spur containing the flower, adding a bit of interest to the photo by my co-worker, Pamm Cooper. Female trees have female flowers and produce a fruit which, when ripe, smells a lot like vomit. I suggest if you are purchasing a gingko tree, chose a male.

-Carol Quish