Covering Louisiana

Mar 21, 2011 12:25 PM by AP

Want honeybees? LSU AgCenter has a plant guide.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Poison ivy honey has a good flavor, while honey from nectar of the devil's walking stick is sometimes bitter, according to the LSU AgCenter's new guidebook, "Louisiana Honey Plants."

The 32-page book by recently retired professor and entomologist Dale Pollet has color photos of each plant, descriptions of plants and their honey, notes about where the plants are common, and a blooming season chart.

Poison ivy isn't the only plant that makes good honey even though it can be toxic to people. Bees that get nectar from Yaupon - a plant with the unpleasant scientific name of Ilex vomitoria - make honey with "a rich amber color with a pleasant flavor," according to the handbook.

The devil's walking stick isn't poisonous, just armed with lots of thorns on a thick, straight stem.

Louisiana's major nectar plants are Chinese tallow trees, willow, clover, American buckwheat vine, aster and goldenrod, said Pollet.

Louisiana is the only state where Chinese tallow tree honey - the top source for the majority of Louisiana's honey - is usable as a table honey, he said. "It's something to do about soil conditions," he said in an interview Tuesday.

"A lot of the different honeys depend on minerals in the soil, how hot or dry it is," he said. "We've had some plants that, under the right conditions, instead of it being a light to medium amber it might even be purple because of the minerals in the soil it's picked up."

Honey from the buckwheat tree "varies in color from reddish-amber to purple, strong and variable quality," according to the book.

Chinese tallow-tree honey has a slight "twang" that one producer uses for what he calls a Cajun taste, according to an AgCenter publication about the trees. That publication also says that although Chinese tallow trees are highly invasive, they are so widespread in parts of Louisiana that commercial production poses little environmental threat.

His 6-by-9-inch book lists nectar-producing plants in order of blooming season, starting with hairy vetch - a small relative of the pea that blooms from January into April - and ending with goldenrod, which blooms from August into November.

"Most of the plants are not abundant enough in any one location to be good sources for any volume of nectar but can help colonies make it through times of need," Pollet wrote.

He said American buckwheat vine, also called redvine or ladies' eardrops, was identified only in the last couple of years as a good plant for Louisiana's bees.

"We didn't know where the honey was coming from. Then one of the beekeepers found some of the plants growing together and bees were working them very heavily," he said.

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