Honey bee forage: the unsuspecting Tulip Poplar

I live in the Southern Appalachians where there is a wide variety of bee forage. This could be anything from ground covers like Gill-over-the-Ground, vines like Clematis, blackberry brambles, and trees like Sourwood and Tulip Poplar.

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the flower of the tulip poplar tree
The tulip of the Tulip Poplar. One of my favorite flowers with a subtle aroma of goodness. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Today I’m going to reveal the importance of the often overlooked nectar source of the widespread Tulip Poplar tree.

Much of what I’m going to show you comes from two sources: my own personal observations and my very favorite book, American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett. And I always recommend this book to any beekeeper or plant enthusiast alike.


Tulip Poplar honey

In many areas, the Tulip Poplar is a tremendous source of nectar and pollen for bees. Where I live in the Southern Appalachians, we beekeepers down here rely heavily on it as our primary source of Wildflower honey in the spring; two thirds of our yearly crop.

honeycomb filled with honey sourced from blackberry and tulip poplar honey
This particular honey is a blend of Tulip Poplar & Blackberry honey. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

This usually overlaps with Blackberry bloom during the nectar flow.

However, I’m finding that most beekeepers do not realize exactly where their honey is sourced from plant-wise. This is part of the reason they call it ‘Wildflower.’

Granted, I pay a lot more attention to forage plants than most because I love doing so. But I know a beekeeping fella who is going to label his spring honey crop as Black Locust.

He does this because that’s what he sees blooming from the 4 or 5 young Black Locust trees surrounding his apiary. What he doesn’t realize is that Blackberry and Tulip Poplar are much heavier sources of the nectar his bees are bringing in and they blend it all together.


What sets the Tulip Poplar apart?

There are two particular things that make Tulip Poplar an incredibly unique nectar source for honey bees:

1) The blossom’s nectar increases in sugar content as the flower ages.

2) Each individual blossom produces so much nectar that a honey bee can fill up their belly from one flower rather than visit a few hundred before heading back to the hive.

tulip poplar blossom
I love the orange ring of color these flowers have. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Income potential

So what is the income potential of the Tulip Poplar? Well, if you’re standing under this tree on a slightly breezy day you may find yourself getting splashed in the face like I have.

Quoting an article on the tulip-tree by Edgar Abernathy in American Bee Journal, June 1940, AHB says this, “I have known it to secrete so profusely that great drops dripped out of the blossoms and were noticed on the ground beneath.”

That’s right, the blossoms produce so much nectar that I have been splashed on several occasions standing underneath them.

tulip poplar bud
The beautifully curvy bud of the Tulip Poplar blossom. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Here’s what American Honey Plants says, “…the honey yield from this source is heavy and the tree is an important addition to the nectar-secreting flora of Tennessee and nearby States.”

It seems that the author agrees with me when he states that, “The possibilities of this source of nectar are not properly appreciated…The skilled beekeeper, who can bring his colonies through the winter in good condition, gets large yields of honey from this source.” American Honey Plants.

You know bees have been working on Tulip Poplar when they return to the hive with baskets full of a rich yellow pollen and their head and abdomen are still covered in pollen as well.

AHB reports that near the vicinity of Washington D.C., “…it is the principal source of surplus, and strong colonies often store an average of 100 pounds [45 kg].”

I don’t know about you, but if every one of my hives made 100 pounds/45 kg of Tulip Poplar each year, it would make me very happy!

How is it that so much can be foraged from this tall tree? Well back to AHB, which states that an Entomologist by the name of G.E. Marvin figured out that a Tulip Poplar was “…calculated to yield enough nectar to produce 2.16 pounds [1 kg] of honey.”

That may not sound like a lot but once you realize the sheer number of Tulip Poplars available in just a 3 mile/4.8 kilometer radius , that’s literally thousands of trees. I don’t have enough bees to even cover all of those.

So let’s say that 30 of my beehives made 100 pounds each from Tulip Poplar. That’s a total of 3000 pounds/1362 kg of honey. Which means that my bees only visited 1400 trees in order to make that amount of honey.

And at the prices where I live, that much honey would sell for $40,000/31,000 pounds. I could live quite comfortably off of that. What about you? Unfortunately the weather usually has it’s own ideas during this honey flow.

honey display at a local market
My first market ever! I offered 3 different varieties of honey. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

I’ve noticed that the bees prefer to work Tulip Poplar in the early parts of the day, especially if the sky is overcast. When the day becomes humid and quite warm, they will switch over to Blackberry which is very much like Goldenrod; it requires warmer temperatures to produce nectar.

honey bee on blackberry blossom
Honey bee on Blackberry blossom. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The Tulip Poplar is probably my favorite tree. It’s tall, unsuspecting and reminds me much of myself. I am thankful each year that it blooms its cups of nectar, holding them out for anyone interested in partaking.

What about you? Are there any forage plants in your area that people don’t really understand or know about? Perhaps bringing it to light would help in not taking it for granted.

I hate it when I see people clearing the land of precious trees. Trees are literally power sources of nutrients, shade, habitat, food and medicinal sources, etc. Learn more about it here.

Check out my new book that teaches children the importance of bee forage. Teach them while they’re young and perhaps one day they will be the ones to revive this earth. Get your copy through the link below!

Thanks for joining my little jaunt today. And remember until next time,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

2 Thoughts

  1. I think you bring up a really important point about the worth of different nectars, and the relationship with plants and bees is so incredibly complex. Your honey plants book sounds AMAZING – I wish there was an equivalent here in the UK.

    1. Thank you very much 😊 I agree, Bees and flowers have a relationship unlike any other. And I too wish there was an equivalent book for your area. At best, the book mentions where some of our species originated from.

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