Can anyone tell me which azaleas are most attractive to honeybees? I have a partial shade area near some beehives and I would like to plant some azaleas in it.
Most azaleas are pollinated by bumble bees. Some have deep tubular throats and nectar pots deep down in. These are pollinated by hummingbirds.
Many hummingbird-pollinated flowers are red, a color to which bird eyes are sensitive, but which is not as apparent to insects. The hummingbird must hover and reach deep inside the flower to reach the nectar. Different species of flower may dust the bird with pollen at different locations on its body so that its pollen will be more likely to end up on another species of the same kind. These flowers usually do not have a strong odor because the hummingbirds do not have a particularly well-developed sense of smell.
As insects, bees are relatively intelligent and are able to learn how to locate and collect the nectar on particular species of flowers that are in bloom at a particular times. They are also relatively strong and are able to push their way into complicated flowers that are not accessible to other insects. Bee vision is most sensitive toward the violet end of the spectrum. So bee-pollinated flowers tend to have blue or violet markings. Some may even have markings that are only apparent to bees in the UV range.
So the answer to your question is that all azaleas attract bees, but violet and blue azaleas are more attractive to bees. You are more likely to see bumble bees than honey bees.
Rhododendron ponticum honey is poisonous. Don't know about azaleas, but I would find out if I were thinking about this.
All rhododendron and azalea nectar contains the toxins: grayanotoxins (formerly known as andromedotoxin, acetylandromedol, and rhodotoxin), arbutin glucoside.
The symptoms of excessive doses of these toxins are: stomach irritation, abdominal pain, abnormal heart rate and rhythm, convulsions, coma, death.
Poisonings frequently occur due to rhododendron and azalea honey in Turkey and occasionally occur in other places such as Korea and on the west coast of the US.
In India, they use rhododendron and azalea honey to treat high blood pressure. Rhododendron honey from Italy is even sold in the US under the name Mitica Rhododendron Honey. It behaves much as digitalis (foxglove) and can be either medicinal if used properly or lethal if not treated properly.
Here is a link that might be useful: Toxicity of Rhododendrons and Azaleas to People and Animals