Oct. 7, 2021

Invasive Plants (042)

Invasive Plants  (042)

There are, in most places, a mix of native and invasive plants that our bees will visit because they don’t distinguish good from bad, noxious from native. They are looking for food, regardless of the source. This week Kim and Jim touch on a few of...

Purple LoosestrifeThere are, in most places, a mix of native and invasive plants that our bees will visit because they don’t distinguish good from bad, noxious from native. They are looking for food, regardless of the source.

This week Kim and Jim touch on a few of these, and try and come up with some recommendations and perhaps some plans on dealing with invasive plants and your honey bees.

They start with the Chinese Tallow lawsuit going on in the south, with USDA wanting rid of it by introducing a natural pest. And purple loosestrife is now starting to diminish because they already have introduced a natural pest for that handsome weed and very predictable honey crop.

Mimosa bloomsBut Black Locust, Norway Maple, Japanese Knotweed, Kudzu vine, English Ivy and Autumn Olive are looked at too. There are pages of introduced species of plants, many of which are terrific honey plants.

The message is….if you and your bees are dependent on introduced or noxious weeds as food sources and a honey crop, you may want to be aware, because those plants might not be there for long.


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Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 42 – Invasive Plants


Kim: Jim, have you heard about that court case that the beekeeping industry has got going against the USDA on Chinese tallow?

Jim: Oh, Kim, I don't know much about that.

Kim: Well, the Chinese tallow is a good honey crop if you're in the south and the government wants to introduce a natural predator because Chinese tallow is an invasive tree, and they want it to go away.

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Kim: Hi, I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: Today, we're going to look at the role that invasive plants play in the beekeeping world because they're all over the place and our bees use them. Our bees may have to deal with them going away.

Introduction: You are listening to Honeybee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today podcast. Each week on Honeybee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Well, what a strange story. I don't know that I've ever heard of anything quite like this.

Kim: [chuckles] You had Chinese tallow in Alabama when you were there didn't you?

Jim: I did. I feel like I'm trying to put a snake in a bag here, Kim. [chuckles] I want to be careful, but before anyone had a strong opinion other than Chinese tallow tree is a really nice nectar source and produces bright red leaves in the fall, that was what we were told and so, Kim, I planted Chinese tallow tree at my dad's home place in Alabama. I feel like an evil person now in some circles and in other circles, I'm a hero I guess.

Kim: There's another one purple loosestrife.

Jim: Oh, yes.

Kim: Years ago, I helped spread it because it did well in damp places. About the only thing that would grow there were cattails and bees love purple loosestrife, so I helped spread it. Now, they've introduced a natural predator. I think it's from the UK. They've introduced a natural predator and purple loosestrife's is going away.

Jim: Is going away or has gone away, Kim?

Kim: Well, I've still got some in my yard, so it hasn't gone away completely.

Jim: Well, I used to walk along the trail just south of Cleveland and I'd see this really nice purple plant over there on the marsh. You couldn't get close. It was soggy and wet, but I figured out that was purple loosestrife growing wild. I thought, "It's really a nice-looking plant." It's insulting, isn't it, Kim? I got to be careful here that it's not uncomely plant and there were insect foragers all over it. It's a plant that nobody wanted in that marsh area.

Kim: Yes, there's a lot of those around. Another one black locust trees, there's nothing that signals spring to me more than when a black locust blooms.

Jim: The thing is, I think I've done it again. I bought a locust tree seedling from a nursery because I wanted to plant something for my bees and now I want to see if I can figure out which variety of locusts it is, but I think there's a pretty good chance that I've done it again, Kim. I planted another noxious invasive plant-- not noxious- invasive plant.

Kim: We have a history of that in this country. The Ailanthus tree, they planted that New York years ago because it would grow there and now it's growing everywhere.

Jim: Is that Tree of Heaven?

Kim: Yes.

Jim: I thought so. I knew it by tree of heaven. I need some help here, Kim, with what's considered to be okay to be here. There are so many. Hey listeners, I'm not trying to justify it. I'm not trying to unjustify it. I don't always know what's going on here. You've mentioned mimosa, Kim-

Kim: Mimosa, right.

Jim: -in other conversations you and I've had, and I grew up with mimosas. Climbing them, pretending that the floral leaflets were some kind of vegetable crop, and we were going to cook them. I just had no idea that that tree shouldn't be here.

Kim: What about Norway Maple? [crosstalk]

Jim: I had nothing to do with that. You cannot blame that one on me.

Kim: [chuckles] There's an early honey crop every year. I got one in my yard. It was here when I moved here. It's just a nice spring honey source.

Jim: You sound like you got the Rue Morgue of plants you shouldn't have. [chuckles]

Kim: I'm not going to tell you the other ones I got I shouldn't have either, but I've got some other ones back there. Although there is one Tree of Heaven in the city of Medina (Ohio) or one that I know of. I've only seen one over the years, but this year, it spread to the display gardens we have behind the Root Company. They found it down there. Find that out back there, the extension person in Medina County found it, and it was of a show and a half getting rid of it because they don't want it to spread. Then not only trees, but you got just weeds that our bees like. I mentioned Purple Loosestrife, Japanese Honeysuckle, Japanese Knotweed. I bet you've got that in your yard.

Jim: I don't know Japanese Knotweed and I keyed it out one day. I saw something blooming behind one of the service stations here while I was buying fuel. It was this plant blooming at the wrong time. It was covered in bees, and I figured out, with pictures, keep doing the wrong thing, Kim. Keying by picture, not by dichotomous key, and I figured out that was Japanese Knotweed. I stood there and watched it like a buffet for insect foragers on that thing.

Kim: [chuckles] I think down south you had Kudzu then, too, didn't you?

Jim: Oh yes, Kudzu is a way of life.

Kim: [chuckles]

Jim: That is reputed to make a purplish-colored honey. Now, I may be propagating an urban legend, but supposedly Kudzu honey, in its purest form, has a purple cast to it.

Kim: Well, now that you mentioned it, purple loosestrife when it's first extracted if you get a nearly pure crop of purple loosestrife, it comes out of the extractor looking like 10 w 30 motor oil. Then it sits for a while. Not very long, and it just mellows right out and it's a nice tasting honey. The first time you get Purple Loosestrife honey, you're going to go, "Oh, what have I done?"

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Sponsor: Better Bee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honeybee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Better Bee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Better Bee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog, to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Better Bee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbee.com.

Kim: Here's another one is-- this makes perfect sense- English Ivy. Now we don't have ivy here in this part of Ohio, but when my daughter was living in Oregon, she had it all over the place and when it bloomed, there were bees all over it.

Jim: I don't know English Ivy, Kim. I can't add anything to that. I want to ask you about Autumn Olive.

Kim: Oh.

Jim: Isn't that a holly plant?

Kim: Autumn Olive?

Jim: Help me out. That thing is all over the roadsides here in Ohio and really quite an aggressive thing. We get a bit of a honey crop from that.

Kim: I know it's common and if you want to make a name for it is invasive, it certainly spreads fast.

Jim: Belligerently spreads.

Kim: [chuckles]

Jim: Kim, I can't speak for you, but I'll speak for me. I'm not recommending anybody plant these things just because we say that they are a good honey plant. Insects are all over it. These things are not friendly plants. We're not necessarily saying with any degree of opinion that you should or should not plant these things. I just want you to know if they're there, your bees are not going to say, "Oh, bad plant. Not going there." No, your bees will go find the best buy - that's all that I'm saying.

Kim: I think the message here is that if you have bees in the location and you have a crop of any of these plants, or any of the invasive weeds or the noxious weeds and you were relying on those to put food on your table every year, you might want to keep your eye on what's going to be happening to them because they're going to go away like Chinese tallow and purple loosestrife. They may go away like Chinese Tallow and Purple Loosestrife and suddenly, you don't have a honey crop.

Jim: Well, I'm assuming no one's listening in and this is a private conversation between you and me. Can I complain just for a bit? It seems so unfair, that we have herbicide use everywhere on our lawns, on our roadsides, and our agricultural fields that kill off the native weeds, the native plants that we would have gotten a honey crop from. Then what's left it seems, is often these non-native plants that you are not welcome to use as a nectar plant. It's like we get a crossfire that you can't get out of.

Kim: Well, the other part of that is that for some of these, people have been trying for so long to get rid of them using those common herbicides that they've become resistant, so you can't get rid of them that way. You got to do something else. I guess the take-home message here is find out what's noxious. Find out what's invasive and find out what your bees are on. If your bees are relying on one of those plants for some spring, summer, fall, honey crop, or maybe all of your honey crop, keep your eyes open because they may not be there next year.

Jim: Keep your eyes open. Just because you can buy it, just because it's readily for sale and somebody wants your money for it, it doesn't mean that it is the plant that you should want to be planting. It may have some controversy about it and even if you lean toward being controversial, you still may want to know that there's controversy about a particular plant. The point that I would like to make and what could be a controversial topic here, Kim, is that my bees do not distinguish between native-nonnative, invasive, non-invasive whatever. They are trying to find whatever it takes to get a nectar crop and survive for the season. In that way, they become accomplices to this thing in an unintended way.

Kim: Well, I think we can wrap this up, but I'll leave on a final point is actually our honey bees are invasive insects. They're not native.

Jim: I'm not going there with you because then I'm invasive. I shouldn't be here either. [chuckles]

Kim: Well, there you go. [chuckles]

Jim: All right, I don't know about this, Kim. This has been a sticky wicket to get through. All during my career when I was working for various university systems, this was always a tough one. Is it invasive? How invasive? Is it bad? Is it really bad? Is it going to be bad? Are you promoting this? Are not promoting this? It was always tough to work your way through the parameters of this issue.

Kim: Yes. Well, good luck wrestling with it in the future.

Jim: I'm not wrestling with this anymore. Good luck to you wrestling with it, I'm done. All right, till next Thursday. I look forward to it.

Kim: Okay.

Jim: We'll do it again. Thank you. Bye-bye.

[00:12:57] [END OF AUDIO]