Why Goldenrod is a Honey Bee Favorite- Carolina Honeybees

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As Fall walks in to push out the long hot Summer, many regions will experience fields of nodding yellow blooms. Yes, this is the goldenrod season. This native plant is considered a weed in many cases. But, it is a vital food source for many different pollinators. What about honey bees? Is goldenrod good for bees? Yes, this harbinger of Fall is known to be a reliable provider of much needed late season food.

Closeup of goldenrod plant in bloom with honey bees.

Goldenrod with its vibrant yellow flower tops is a beautiful site in late Summer/early Fall. In addition to being a beautiful addition to your bee garden – or the wild landscape – it is also very beneficial to bees. One of the premier Fall flowers that bees like it can play a pivotal role in providing Winter food stores.

Goldenrod and Honey Bees

In spite of the beauty of a field of goldenrod in bloom, bees are attracted to goldenrod for the nectar and pollen it produces.

In many regions, goldenrod produces abundant nectar. Bees use nectar to make honey. The more nectar each plant produces – the fewer trips bees need to make to collect large amounts.

It is also a good thing when a plant produces both nectar and pollen. Pollen is used by bees as a protein source and is needed for rearing brood.

Another benefit is that goldenrod often grows in thick clusters. This puts a large amount of nectar-rich flowers in a smaller space. Honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, and other insects will be seen buzzing around in the area.

Perhaps once of the main benefits of goldenrod for bees is that it blooms late in the season. This is a time when many other plants have ceased to flower. And, our bees are working at a frantic pace to bring in as much food as possible before frost.

Goldenrod in Natural Habitats

There are over 70 different species of native goldenrod plants in the United States. Individual types vary in height and leaf shape.

They are one of the few pollinator plants that can be found blooming from New England to Hawaii.

Identifying the specific variety in your backyard is difficult due to many similarities. It is not uncommon to find several varieties in one location.

Because of the diversity of plant types, it can have a long bloom time – from 4 – 6 weeks. This makes it a great choice to include in any bee habitat. In years with good rainfall, the nectar produced can be significant.

Best Varieties for Bees

If you do not have any goldenrod in bloom nearby, you can purchase seed and grow your own. It is a nice addition to any pollinator garden.

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Popular Types of Goldenrod that attracts pollinators include:

  • Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
  • Showy Goldenrod (S. speciosa)
  • Missouri goldenrod (S. missouriensis)
  • Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
  • and many others
Goldenrod varieties that attract bees.

Some regions experience drought resulting in periodic nectar dearths. Fall may arrive with insufficient stores ready for Winter.

Seeing blooms does not guarantee food for pollinators. In very dry years, you may not notice any bees working the blossoms.

This means there is nothing there for bees to collect or that they have found something better. When checking your area, look for foraging bees around mid-day to afternoon. The heat of the day encourages nectar production.

Graphic of yellow flower and jar of goldenrod honey.

Are Your Bees Making Goldenrod Honey?

Experienced beekeepers can tell when the colonies are making goldenrod honey. They can do this without seeing bees on the flowers or even opening the hive top.

How do they know? It’s the smell. Stinky honey? Why do my beehives suddenly stink?

Producing honey with goldenrod nectar creates a unique smell during the curing process. The odor is noticeable in the apiary when bees are collecting nectar from this plant.

Some beekeepers say it smells like sweaty socks-others describe the scent as spicy! No matter what you call it – it is not a pleasant smell. But, never fear, the resulting honey does not smell bad. However, it is dark and can be bitter.

While this plant can be a viable food source for your bee colonies, goldenrod honey is not a marketable crop for most beekeepers.

In general, consumers do not care for the taste or bitter strong smell. However, some people love the unique goldenrod honey taste – it is truly a personal taste preference issue.

Benefits of Goldenrod Honey

In spite of numerous claims, there does not seem to be much scientific proof of goldenrod honey having more healthy benefits than other honey varieties.

This does not mean it does not exist. Only that the proof required is just not there in regular medical circles.

As for the plant itself, goldenrod is a member of the herb family. The crushed leaves smell a bit like licorice. Traditional uses include: anti-inflammation, muscle spasms, arthritis, and some skin conditions.

Allergy Sufferers Should Not Blame Goldenrod

Considered a weed by many, this is one of those important weeds that feed bees. Because of the showy bloom, goldenrod gets blamed for many late season allergies.

However, the pollen of this native plant is heavy and not the cause of major allergies. The likely culprit for your sneezing and sniffles is ragweed which blooms during the same time period.

Various cultivars of goldenrod plants in bloom.

Why It is This Plant a Beekeeper Favorite?

Goldenrod is a late season bloomer and this makes it a very important honey plant in some regions. If any colonies throw a Fall swarm, a good Goldenrod flow may be their only hope for survival.

For the colony, that is going into winter with critically low food stores. The nectar and pollen – for bee bread, gathered from this native plant can be a game changer.

Personally, I enjoy having some blooming in my area. It is a more natural food source for the bees than feeding them sugar water.

This type of honey will crystallize faster than other varieties but can be a great benefit to colonies that are light on stores as the season winds down.

As a beekeeper prepares hives for Winter, a natural flow can be very beneficial as it prevents the cost of excess feeding.

FAQs

Are bees attracted to goldenrod?

Absolutely, bees are attracted to goldenrod blooms due to the abundant nectar and pollen it provides.

Can bees make honey from goldenrod?

With a long bloom period in many locations, bees can make honey from goldenrod blooms. The strong flavor is not a consumer favorite but it provides nutrition for hungry pollinators.

What does goldenrod honey taste like?

This plant produces a dark honey that has a distinct taste. With tones of licorice some consumers say it has a touch of butterscotch flavor.

Which type of goldenrod is best for bees?

With many varieties to chose from, here are a few of the best to try in your bee garden – Stiff Goldenrod (S. rigida), Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) and Riddell’s Goldenrod (S. riddellii). Check with your local native plant nursery.

Is goldenrod invasive?

Goldenrod is a wonderful plant for bees but yes it can be invasive. Unless you are planting a meadow, choose an area where it can be contained.

Final Thoughts

One of the true beauties of the plant world, goldenrod brings a final splash of color to late Summer. Just before the leaves begin to turn colors, this plant provides much needed food to many different pollinator insects.

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