Which Wildflowers Provide The Most Nectar And Pollen For Bees?

In 2016, Hicks et al1 published a paper, in which the average nectar and pollen reward of a number of wildflowers was compiled and presented in tables - along with other data recording and measuring a variety of factors.

Below, I have taken parts of the data and present it here to provide an overview of the average (mean) nectar and pollen reward recorded for each flower, as well as the average floral longevity (in days).

Why might this data be useful?
If you are considering adding wildflowers to your flower border, you might be looking for information on which to include, based on a desire to provide the maximum amount of food for bees in the form of nectar and pollen.  Both nectar and pollen are important for feeding individual bees and for rearing larvae.

However, it's worth noting there are limitations to the data - for example, a number of beautiful and very beneficial wildflowers are not included, and I elaborate on a number of considerations below.

Selecting Wildflowers For Nectar And Pollen

It's no secret that bees need nectar for energy which they get from the carbohydrate sugars, and pollen for lipids, protein and for maintaining good health.

Some flowers offer an abundance of both for bees to feed on, whilst others provide only one, but in abundance.  Of course, some flowers offer little of value to bees. 

Additionally, there are pollinator species which have a preference for only one or two plants (pollinator constancy), and seasonality factors are also relevant, as well as local environment.

red tailed bumble bee male on knapweed

Which wildflowers should I include in my garden?

5 recommended wildflowers

If you have limited space, then based on the lists below, and my own personal experience, my top 5 recommended wildflowers from those listed in the tables are:

Oxeye daisy - Leucanthemum vulgare

Oxeye daisyLeucanthemum vulgare
Flowers remain for several days to provide bees and other pollinators with an extended opportunity to feed on the cheery blooms. Offers lots of pollen and good amounts of nectar.  

bumble bee on pale pink musk mallow -  Malva moschata

Musk mallow - Malva moschata - also known as   Provides ample pollen for bees, and is attractive to a range of bee species.  Please note, the image left is another member of the mallows (Malvaceae family) Prairie mallow, another stunning flower available for gardens.

corn marigold with solitary bees, Heriades truncorum - large headed resin bees

Corn marigoldGlebionis segetum
Easy to grow, and great in the border as a cheery plant, with a shorter, more compact growing habit that oxeye daisies.

Centaurea nigra - common knapweed with 2 honey bees

Common knapweedCentaurea nigra
If you have an abundance of this flower in your immediate surroundings, then perhaps it's not one you need to include in your garden.  Otherwise, it's a fantastic all-rounder for bees and a myriad other pollinators.  

bumble bee on vipers bugloss -  Echium vulgare

Viper's bugloss - Echium vulgare
A superb plant, again offering nectar and pollen, and attractive to a range of bee species.

Below are the tables outlining the data.  I provide my reasons for recommending certain wildflowers and not others, below the tables.

Wildflower pollen reward

Common
name
Scientific
name
Mean volume
of pollen
per flower
per day
(µl/day)
Floral
unit
longevity
(days)
Musk MallowMalva moschata2.2742.232
Common KnapweedCentaurea nigra2.0583.112
DandelionsTaraxacum agg.1.2552.250
Ox-eye DaisyLeucanthemum
vulgare
1.07714.783
Rosebay WillowherbChamerion
angustifolium
0.6894.200
Corn-marigoldGlebionis
segetum
0.6098.333
Cat's-earHypochaeris
radicata
0.3653.526
Scentless MayweedTripleurospermum
inodorum
0.3488.500
Autumn HawkbitScorzoneroides
autumnalis
0.2746.684
Meadow ButtercupRanunculus
acris
0.2625.345
YarrowAchillea
millefolium
0.2474.565
Rough HawkbitLeontodon
hispidus
0.1576.684
Smooth HawksbeardCrepis capillaris0.1455.056
DaisyBellis perennis0.1454.500
PineappleweedMatricaria discoidea0.1343.216
Prickly Sow-thistleSonchus asper0.1207.824
Red CampionSilene
dioica/latifolia
0.1153.128
Smooth Sow-thistleSonchus oleraceus0.11211.857
NipplewortLapsana communis0.1073.087
Creeping ThistleCirsium arvense0.1045.769
Common RagwortSenecio jacobaea0.0999.530
Creeping ButtercupRanunculus repens0.0884.820
Viper’s BuglossEchium vulgare0.0642.360
Wild MignonetteReseda lutea0.0434.519
Bird`s-foot-trefoilLotus corniculatus0.0364.050
Common Mouse-earCerastium
fontanum
0.0351.000
Dove's-foot
Crane's-bill
Geranium molle0.0331.000
Common
Field-speedwell
Veronica persica0.0311.000
SelfhealPrunella vulgaris0.0291.090
Tufted VetchVicia cracca0.0281.350
Common GroundselSenecio vulgaris0.0286.294
Broad-leaved
Willowherb
Epilobium
montanum
0.0262.000
Red Dead-nettleLamium
purpureum
0.0191.052
Common
Hemp-nettle
Galeopsis tetrahit0.0171.912
CharlockSinapis arvensis0.0152.575
White CloverTrifolium repens0.0142.058
Wild Red CloverTrifolium pratense0.0121.675
LesserStitchowortStellaria graminea0.0073.065
Hairy TareVicia hirsuta0.0061.000
Ribwort PlantainPlantago lanceolata0.0052.362
Common FumitoryFumaria officinalis0.0052.031
American WillowherbEpilobium ciliatum0.0033.063
Common KnotgrassPolygonum
aviculare
0.0032.000
Wild MarjoramOriganum vulgare0.0033.594
Hedge MustardSisymbrium
officinale
0.0023.000
RedshankPersicaria
maculosa
0.0021.141
Wild CarrotDaucus carota0.0028.450
Lady’s BedstrawGalium verum0.0016.974
Hedge BedstrawGalium album0.0017.440
Common ChickweedStellaria media0.0012.235
Field Forget-me-notMyosotis arvensis0.0003.635

Wildflower nectar reward

Common
name
Scientific
name
Mean volume
of nectar sugar
per flower
per day
(µg/day)
Floral
unit
longevity
(days)
Common RagwortSenecio jacobaea2921.4349.530
Creeping ThistleCirsium arvense2608.9415.769
Spear ThistleCirsium vulgare2322.728na
DandelionsTaraxacum agg.2137.1982.250
Cat's-earHypochaeris
radicata
1843.2393.526
Rough HawkbitLeontodon hispidus1826.7166.684
Common KnapweedCentaurea nigra1473.8083.112
Scentless MayweedTripleurospermum
inodorum
1415.7908.500
Corn-marigoldGlebionis segetum931.2108.333
Viper’s BuglossEchium vulgare688.2692.360
Prickly Sow-thistleSonchus asper593.8277.824
Smooth Sow-thistleSonchus oleraceus568.84411.857
Musk MallowMalva moschata540.6492.232
Autumn HawkbitScorzoneroides
autumnalis
536.1756.684
Ox-eye DaisyLeucanthemum
vulgare
515.21314.783
Wild MignonetteReseda lutea360.5744.519
Rosebay WillowherbChamerion
angustifolium
282.9004.200
Creeping ButtercupRanunculus repens258.8544.820
SelfhealPrunella vulgaris246.9291.090
Red CampionSilene dioica/latifolia144.9943.128
American WillowherbEpilobium ciliatum144.7133.063
Wild MarjoramOriganum vulgare144.0683.594
Meadow ButtercupRanunculus acris122.5005.345
Tufted VetchVicia cracca110.2191.350
Red Dead-nettleLamium purpureum107.7321.052
NipplewortLapsana communis99.3473.087
Bird`s-foot-trefoilLotus corniculatus59.1724.050
DaisyBellis perennis51.0674.500
Wild Red CloverTrifolium pratense48.3661.675
Broad-leaved WillowherbEpilobium montanum36.5662.000
LesserStitchowortStellaria graminea32.1593.065
YarrowAchillea millefolium31.1054.565
RedshankPersicaria maculosa29.5861.141
Wild CarrotDaucus carota27.1778.450
Hairy TareVicia hirsuta26.7631.000
Common FumitoryFumaria officinalis21.8982.031
Field Forget-me-notMyosotis arvensis21.8343.635
Germander SpeedwellVeronica chamaedrys21.3832.107
Dove's-foot Crane's-billGeranium molle19.2731.000
White CloverTrifolium repens12.1352.058
Common ChickweedStellaria media11.9182.235
Common Mouse-earCerastium fontanum11.5891.000
Shepherd's purseCapsella
bursa−pastoris
9.0521.465
Hedge BedstrawGalium album7.0567.440
CharlockSinapis arvensis5.6872.575
Common Field-speedwellVeronica persica4.6861.000
Hedge MustardSisymbrium
officinale
3.6753.000
Lady’s BedstrawGalium verum3.1736.974
Smooth HawksbeardCrepis capillaris0.0005.056
PineappleweedMatricaria discoidea0.0003.216
Ribwort PlantainPlantago lanceolata0.0002.362
Common GroundselSenecio vulgaris0.0006.294


Rationale for recommendations
You may note that there are some wildflowers that score highly, which I exclude from my 'top 5' list above, such as dandelion

My reasoning is as follows:

  • The other wildflower species which score highly, are generally found in abundance in most regions, and arguably, there is no great need to cultivate them in a garden setting.

  • I have selected for value to a range of bee species, and for beauty.  I think most people looking to incorporate just a few wildflowers into their garden border and maximize available space, would prefer not to use flowers such as Cat's Ear (not that there's anything wrong with it), whereas the mallows offer tremendous value and are extremely pretty. 

  • I recommend other wildflowers for particular scenarios elsewhere on my website.  For example, I have long advocated allowing clover to flourish in the lawn.


Limitations of the data as presented above

  • It's important to note that the study from which I extracted the above data, provided discussion and outlined a number of variables not covered here.   In other words, this article, which is already rather long, is only giving part of the story from the study.

  • The study did not and could not reasonably be expected to cover every single wildflower known, and there are a number of flowers for which data is missing.  

    For example, Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) is known to be very beneficial to pollinators.  One study found that it provided a mean (average) nectar reward of between 2.73 and 4.33µg (micrograms) per plant species across 4 sample groups, and a range of beneficial amino acids.  It received visits from bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees and hoverflies2.

  • As stated previously, when planning your bee-friendly garden, it's worth taking into account flowering season, and if possible, aim to plug gaps when there might otherwise be a shortage of nectar and pollen.  This element is not covered in my tables above.  In addition, select a variety of flower shapes.

  • Remember some pollinator species have a preference for particular types of flowers.  for example, you can't go wrong with Lamb's ear to attract wool carder bees, or Pulmonaria to attract Hairy footed flower bees.


Nevertheless, the 5 species of wildflower mentioned above are all of great benefit to bees and pollinators, and certainly worthy of inclusion in the garden border.

References

1. Hicks DM, Ouvrard P, Baldock KC, et al. Food for Pollinators: Quantifying the Nectar and Pollen Resources of Urban Flower Meadows. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0158117. Published 2016 Jun 24. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158117

2. Venjakob, Christine & Leonhardt, Sara & Klein, Alexandra. (2020). Inter-Individual Nectar Chemistry Changes of Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis. Insects. 11. 75. 10.3390/insects11020075. 




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