Maple Trees as a Food Source for Honeybees
Maple trees are common across the American landscape. There are 14 species of maple trees found in America, and this article focuses on the trees most likely to be found in Indiana. Maples are categorized as either hard or soft maples. Hard maples are less likely to be an important food source for honeybees, as they do not bloom until late spring/early summer. By this point in the year there are often more attractive options for bees to forage for their nectar and pollen needs. Soft maples bloom early in the spring, so they can be a lifesaving source of nutrition for a colony coming out of winter with light stores.
The two main soft maple trees in Indiana are the Red Maple and the Silver Maple. Blooming can occur as early as February and extend through April. Both trees have simple opposite leaves, with the Red Maple sporting 3 lobes and the Silver Maple has 5 lobes. The Red Maple has red leaf stems, red seed samaras, and a thick, gray-brown bark with narrow plates. The Silver Maple has a distinctive silver patina to the underside of the leaf and a dark, gray shaggy bark. Silver Maples are also prone to developing cavities in their trunks, which can provide homes for feral honeybee colonies.
Hard maples tend to bloom April through June. Although they do provide pollen and nectar, bees may refrain from working them in preference for the more plentiful wildflowers available. Black Maples have mottled twigs with black buds. The Norway Maple is an introduced maple species from northern Europe, used as a landscape tree, and has distinctive yellow flower clusters in late spring.