Beneficial Plants for Bees

Notes for the beekeeper - Nectar rich plants

Nectar is the raw ingredient of honey. It is produced by flowers to lure pollinators to them for pollination and eventual fertilisation. Pollination, especially for many food crops, is essential for successful cropping.

What is nectar?

It is a solution of sugars in water with amino acids, minerals, essential oils and organic acids. The solution of sugars is usually made up of sucrose, glucose, fructose and sometimes maltose.

Plant facts

Some plants reliably produce abundant nectar despite environmental conditions e.g. citrus, whilst other species may not produce much at all.

Once flowers have been pollinated they produce less nectar. Cucumber flowers are a good example as they only produce nectar on their first day of opening.

Environmental conditions that affect nectar production are: air temperature, soil moisture, soil fertility, sunlight levels, plant processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, growth and flower age.

Honey bees seem to prefer nectar with equal quantities of glucose, fructose and sucrose.

Avoid planting species that have double flowers i.e. masses of petals. Select single-flowered spp. and cultivars as these are easier for the bees to visit.

It's a good idea to identify and record good bee plants in the 2-3km radius of your apiary. Make a list of the species that have good nectar and pollen supplies and the months that these plants flower. This will give you a good indication when your bees will be most active.

For nectar production there are six families of plants that are outstanding:

Rosaceae – all stone and pip fruits, blackberry, hawthorn
Fabaceae – clovers, gorse, false acacia, mimosa
Lamiaceae – rosemary, lavender, sage and other salvias, thyme, mint, bee balm, basil, catmint
Scrophulariaceae – koromiko, penstemons, veronicas,
Brassicaceae - brassicas
Asteraceae – dandelion, sunflower, dahlias, heleniums, cosmos, echinacea, zinnia

Other important plant families as sources of nectar:

Myrtaceae – eucalypts, pohutukawa, rata, bottlebrush, manuka
Rutaceae – citrus
Ericaceae – heather

List of nectar rich plants suitable for gardens:

Banksia spp.
Barberry (Berberis spp.)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma, M. citriodora)
Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Brassicas (Brassica spp.)
Buddleia (Buddleja salviifolia)
Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Cabbage tree (Cordyline australis)
Californian lilac (Ceanothus spp., cvs)
Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Clover (Trifolium repens)
Cucumber, melon, zucchini (Cucurbita spp.)
Dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) & varieties
Echium spp.
Gum tree (Eucalyptus spp.)
Harakeke / NZ flax (Phormium tenax)
Heather (Erica spp.)
Ice plant (Sedum spectabile)
Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides)
Karo (Pittosporum crassifolium)

Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium)
Lemon, grapefruit, orange (Citrus spp.)
Koromiko (Hebe macrocarpa ) & varieties
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
Manatu (Plagianthus betulinus)
Kumarahou (Pomaderris kumeraho)
Lavender (Lavandula spp) & varieties
Mexican aster (Cosmos spp) & varieties
Mimosa (Acacia baileyana)
Northern rata (Metrosideros robusta)
NZ lacebark (Hoheria populnea)
NZ jasmine (Parsonsia heterophylla)
Persimmon (Diospyros kaki)
Penstemon (Penstemon spp.) & varieties
Phacelia tanacetifolia
Poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)
Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa)
Rewarewa (Knightia excelsa)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Sage (Salvia apiana, S. fallax, S. officinalis)
and other spp.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Symphytum grandiflorum
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Tree lucerne  (Chamaecytisus palmensis)
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Wharangi (Melicope ternata)
Zinnia (Zinnia spp.) & varieties

This is not a definitive list of nectar rich plants. Beekeepers should observe bees visiting other species and add to the above list.

Also, people should check the National Plant Pest Accord lists or Regional Pest Plant Strategies for weeds to avoid.  Unfortunately, we do have weed issues in New Zealand. Nurseries have rules and regulations for what plants they can sell/promote.

It's important we as New Zealanders help protect the environment by avoiding planting invasive or potentially invasive plants.


Steve Benham
November 2010

The National Beekeepers' Association of New Zealand