Friday, March 4, 2016

Melissopalynology: The Study of Pollen in Honey





On February 27th, 2016, Dr. Jen O'Keefe gave a presentation at the Kentucky Northeastern Bee Keeping School about her unique work in typing honey. Melissopalynology is the study of pollen in honey. To examine pollen in honey you need training in botany with an emphasis on learning how to identify plants and pollen. You also need an understanding of entomology with an emphasis on honeybee ecology. Honey can vary depending on what pollen is being brought back to the hive and the time of year the honey is harvested. We often see clover honey or wildflower honey on a label, and you might wonder, how do they know the bees mostly visited clover? Typing honey is the only way to know definitively what flowers the bees are visiting the most. It can also be determined whether the bees are dumpster divers, consuming mostly corn syrup from left over sodas. In order to sell honey internationally, it has to be typed according to international laws. There are only 2 -3 laboratories in the U.S. that are typing honey, so it is unique that we have a Professor that is well trained on identifying the spores. The spores are often hard to discern from one another and without the knowledge of someone who has been trained in identifying the differences and specific techniques, we might not come up with the right results. Some might wonder what difference it makes to know the source; honey is honey, right honey? No, some honey might not be the sweet goodness you had hoped for. As I mentioned, it could be mostly corn syrup from dumpster diving. In one of Dr. O'Keefe's honey batches sampled, it was determined that the majority of the honey contained poison ivy pollen. The honey actually made her have an allergic reaction when she tasted the batch! Honey that contains a large amount of Rhododendron pollen can also have a toxic effect on humans. Dr. O'Keefe and other members of the Bee Campus USA committee believe it would be a worthwhile endeavor to offer a honey typing service in our region and involve students in the departments of agriculture and biology. We will be studying the viability of the idea and possibly pursuing grant funding for this service in the near future.


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