The honey thus collected by the Gurung owes its inebriating properties to the nectar which the giant bees gather from a deep red-flowered species of Rhododendron, which, in turn, owes its toxicity to the compound grayanotoxin, widespread in the plant family Ericaceae, to which the genus Rhododendron belongs. Botanists from Trinity College Dublin's School of Natural Sciences have discovered that the nectar from a common, non-native plant, is toxic to some Irish bees. Bees need flowers and plants need bees for pollination. Professor Stout suspects that the subspecies of honey bee that makes mad honey in the rhododendron’s native range has probably evolved to resist the toxins in a similar way to the bumblebees. Some plants that have been reported as poisonous are listed below. Bees seem to build up well when foraging on R. ponticum nectar and pollen, but the author, who is a beekeeper on Colonsay, reports that every spring some of his bees show symptoms of poisoning. This makes sense – rhododendrons bloom in the spring when honey bees may be distracted by other flowers. He said: “In the book “Plants and Beekeeping” by F.N.Howes. This species yields honey in California but is suspected of poisoning or causing paralysis in bees. In contrast the nectar has no apparent effect on worker buff-tailed bumblebees. Leaves and flower nectar (including honey made from plant nectar) are sources of the toxin. I am now convinced that it is killing them and much as it pains me to, I am going to eraditcate it as I feel that, sadlt, bees need all the help they can get these days ! In the foyer of the school where the event takes place there are people who have products and plants to sell specifically of interest to beekeepers. This is news to me and I am glad to learn it. Jen, PJM Rhododendron is a sterile hybrid cultivar created by crossing R. carolinianum and dauricum var. Very interesting! Yet, all species produce a very-attractive-to-bees nectar. The past 2 years it’s been a different pattern (and we’ve had more rain). Rhodies are not the only toxic honey source -- tansy ragwort honey is also regarded as toxic. Azalea and Rhododendron: Toxic Principle: Andromedotoxins (grayanotoxins) are water-soluble diterpenoid compounds. It may be a mechanism to select specialists that are more effective at pollinating the plant.”. I know things will soon get very busy so am trying to write all the posts I can now before life goes crazy! Rhododendron from the heath family (Ericaceae) is poisonous to bees and humans. This assures a surplus of food for the preferred pollinator. He is gone now but lived much longer (13.5 years) than most of his breed. I saw the documentary about Nepalese honey hunters. That year was very dry and we suddenly had piles (hundreds) of dead bees in front of the hives every morning – not all hives, but maybe 20% of them. He never ate another one I can tell you that. And ultimately, we may also have a … And prolific! Aesculus califonica is mentioned……It flowers July – August and the blossoms are much visited by bumble and hive bees. I’ve never heard any reports of rhododendrons killing bumblebees though, only honey bees. A very new area of research, I think! Do the dead bees in front of your hives look different from normal bees in any way? Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. According to legend, the invaders sometimes ate enough of the tainted honey to become too sick to fight. When bees create poisonous honey containing grayanotoxins, the nectar and pollen they collect, as well as the honey is not poisonous to them; only to humans. The common rhododendron, Rhododendron ponticum, certainly does produce toxic nectar. Throughout the morning, the more energetic and house-proud bees actually drag the corpses away from the entrance so, without really studying the colonies at the right time, you’d never see the dead bees. Members of the genus Rhododendron support the following specialized bee: Andrena (Andrena) cornelli. People have been known to become ill from eating honey made by bees feeding on rhododendron and azalea flowers. If we only have hybrid rhododendron species nearby, the hybrids are likely to be less toxic too. Some species of rhododendron are poisonous to grazing animals because of a toxin called grayanotoxin in their pollen and nectar. My terrain is 1ha or approx 2 acres if I include the piece we hope to buy in the future. These apparently affect native and honeybees but not bumblebees. Lindy mentions above that Aesculus Californica (Calfornian Chestnut) trees are known to be poisonous to bees. The resulting honey from rhododendrons has also been known to contaminate honey, making it unsafe for humans to eat. To complicate matters further, Kew Gardens researchers have discovered varying levels of nectar toxin levels even within different R.ponticum plants: Hidden poisons in rhododendron nectar (see the section ‘The changing chemistry of invasive plants’).
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