Melliferous flowers: soul of the honey

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Honey, García Lorca 1 said, is “the soul of flowers condensed through another spirit”.  

This essence is nothing more than the expression of flowers that produce and provide juicy, scented and attractive nurture for approximately 16,000 bee species worlwide 2.

Attributes such as color, size, shape, and smell, are intimately related to the attraction of bees that will fly from flower to flower transporting pollen and promoting the sexual reproduction of plants, therefore producing fruits and seeds.

Xtabentún
Turbina corymbosa (L.) Raf.
Photography: ©Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez

The melliferous flowers, the ones that are visited by bees 2, are characterized for their yellow and blue predominant tonalities, these colors are capable of reflecting UV light through “signaling” called “nectar guides”, which are only visible for bees.

Besides their distinctive sweet scents, they also have petals or structures that constitute “landing surfaces” and offer as reward nectar with a highly concentrated quantity of sugar, pollen, resins and oils 2.

Tajonal
Viguiera dentata (Cav.) Spreng.
Photography: ©Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez

Honey diversity across the world is quite magnificent, we can find honey that comes just from some citrus, lavender, strawberry or even eucalypt; each one of them with extraordinary flavor, color, and scent.

In Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is clearly the national archetype that reflects the importance of these flowers, this area has the highest relevance for honey production due to its environmental and vegetation characteristics, it is the home of native flowers such as xtabentún (Turbina corymbosa), tajonal (Viguira dentata), ja´abin (Piscidia piscipula), ts´its´ilche (Gymnopodium floribundum), chakah (Bursera simaruba) and tzalam (Lysiloma bahamensis) 3,4,6, these species are the bee’s favorites for producing honey in their hives.

Ts´its´ilche (Gymnopodium floribundum).
Photography: ©Alfredo Dorantes Euan

 

“In Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula is clearly the national archetype that reflects the importance of these flowers…”

Tzalam
Lysiloma bahamensis Benth.
Photography: © Henry (Hank) Fabian
Ja´abin
Piscidia piscipula (L.) Sarg.
Photography: levypreserve.org
Chakah
Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg.
Photography: J. González

The visiting bee by excellence is Apis mellifera, nevertheless in our country there are native bees as the xunaan-cab (Melipona beecheii) and the pisilnek-mej (Scaptotrigona mexicana) 3, these species are part of Mexico’s historic and cultural heritage because they have been cultivated in central and southern areas of Mexico since Prehispanic times in order to produce honey for traditional medicine, prepare ceremonial sacred beverages, and as a food source.

Apis mellifera. Derecha arriba
Photography: By Ivar Leidus – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52737922
xunaan-cab (Melipona beecheii).
Photography: Septiembre 30, 2015/por Jose Luis Casuso Bedia, http://www.meliponamaya.org/la-fundacion-melipona-maya-tulum-yucatan-11/
CONABIO, Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano México Programa Recursos Biológicos Colectivos México, 2008

In our country, taking into account geographic regions, flower composition, hives location and time of the year, there are an immense variety of color tones, aromas, and flavors; we can find over 60 different kinds of honey, each one comes from different flower origins.

We have the strong dark honey from vines and creeping plants (especially tajonal and xtabentun); multi-floral honeys from the jungle that are clear with intense flavor and aroma; even honeys that have a single flower origin and keep distinctive flower sensory characteristics, like the ts´its´ilche that has an intense aroma, amber tones and a lot of body; or the tajonal honey which has light amber color, soft flowery scent, and is very fluid 3,4.

Bees are also breeded for medicinal proposes, for example, their venom is used as a pain relief therapy.

The honey production depends on of the floral cycle of each region or locality. By example in the south of México, the flowering begins in December with the xtabentun, later on, in January and February, it synchronizes with the flowering of tajonal, covering large regions of the peninsula in an impressive way.

Jacaranda tree in a median strip of Mexico City.
Photography: Adlai Molina

Mexico is the 8th world honey producer with 62 thousand tons, and the 3rd world honey exporter with 42 thousand tons in 2015; Yucatán, Campeche, and Chiapas are the main productive states 6, which locates Mexico on the center stage of apiculture. The main commercial destinations for this sweet product are Germany and United States.2

Strategic actions such as promoting development and proliferation of the native flora of your particular region, or planting green areas with melliferous flowers like blue sky flowers (Thunbergia grandiflora), geraniums (Pelargonium), marigolds (Calendula officinalis), sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), or even preferring honey produced in Mexico, are great choices to maintain the bee population and rejoice with the sweetness of honey and the juicy fruits of the plants they pollinate, both result of their extraordinary endeavor. 

The pollen covers the bee’s body while it drinks the flower’s nectar.

 

REFERENCES

1    García Lorca, El canto de la miel, 1908.

2    Judith Márquez Guzmán y Margarita Collado Ortega, Biología de Angiospermas, (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2013).

3    Rita Guadalupe Alfaro Bates et al., Caracterización palinológica de las mieles de la Península de Yucatán. (Mérida, Yucatán: Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. Comisión Nacional para el uso de la Biodiversidad, 2010).

4    Comisión Nacional para el uso de la Biodiversidad, Mieles peninsulares y diversidad, 2008.

5    Kaškonienė y Venskutonis, “Floral markers in honey of various botanical and geographic origins: a review” Volume 9, Issue 6, Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety. (2010).

6    Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera. Atlas Agroalimentario 2016, (México, 2016).

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