Australian Nectar Sources - Amazing Bees | Melbourne Australia

Amazing Bees
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Australian Nectar Sources
Most honey in Australia is produced from the nectar of Eucalyptus trees.

There are approximately 900 Eucalyptus species, mostly native to Australia and clearly identifying them can be a challenge, even for botanists.

Different Eucalyptus species are known by the same English name in different regions of Australia and the naming of some of them has changed over the years.

The allocation of Latin names seem to have changed as well when comparing older publications with more recent ones, some of it due to new species having been identified.

Honeybees collect nectar from flowering plants and transform it to Honey.

Identification of Eucalypts
For the identification of Eucalypts an electronic identification and information system, EUCLID, has been produced by the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research from the Australian National Herbarium database. It is available on CD and covers all 894 eucalypts of Australia. [link to EUCLID]

The classical source of information is a book by Frederick Richard Beuhne, published 1922, titled  "Honey Flora of Victoria".
This book can be read on-line and also downloaded as pdf file.

And here is another useful online source of information for the Identification of Trees in Australia.  

Following on this page are a few of the major Eucalypts that can be found in our area.

Grey Box - Eucalyptus microcarpa  
Eucalyptus microcarpa is one of the most important and useful Eucalypts for beekeepers in Victoria, being very regular in its flowering habits and producing more or less nectar and pollen every year.

Appearance: Grey Box is a slow growing, medium size tree, attaining a height of up to 25 meters - some trees can reach 40 meters though. It is a spreading tree with a fibrous light to dark-grey bark on the trunk and lower branches and a smooth, grey-brown bark on its upper branches.

Leaves: The leaves are broad, lance-shaped, sometimes up 150mm in length, thick and rigid and greyish-green on both sides. The veins of the leaves are prominent, the lateral ones oblique, the marginal ones somewhat distant from the edge.

Flowers: The flowers are mostly in clusters of four to eight on the same season's new wood. The buds are conical and become first visible from three to six months before flowering.

Distribution: Grey Box is widely distributed over central Victoria - distribution map
Flowering season: Grey Box usually flowers from February to May, sometimes until June. Although the individual trees blossom every second year there are always some trees flowering every year.

Pollen yield: Besides nectar, bees also collect great quantities of pollen from Grey Box, which often is the only available source at the end of the honey season.

Honey: Grey Box honey is medium to dark amber in colour, of medium density and reveals an excellent aromatic, sweat taste. It crystallises after several months.

Yellow Box - Eucalyptus melliodora

Eucalyptus melliodora or honey-scented Eucalypt is considered one of the most valuable nectar-yielding trees of Victoria.

Appearance: Yellow Box is a medium size tree, but can also reach a height of sixty meters and a stem diameter of over two meters at the base. The bark of the tree is outside brownish-grey, inside yellowish and it covers the greater part and sometimes the entire stem of the tree. There is, however, great variation in the appearance of the trunk and also the branches of individual trees. In some specimens the rough bark covers only a meter or two of the stem near the ground, the rest being smooth, while other trees sometimes growing nearby have the entire stem and the branches covered with rough bark.

Leaves: The leaves are narrow, not very long, mostly dull-green on both sides. The small flowers form a cluster from four to seven. Seen from a distance the foliage of young trees often has a bluish tinge in comparison with other Eucalypts growing near it. The wood is yellowish in colour, very tough and hard when dry.

Flowers: The flower buds become visible ten to twelve months before flowering.

Distribution: Yellow Box is widely distributed over Victoria, but is rarely found where the average annual rainfall is over 760mm or under 380mm and rarely ascends to high elevations. In the western part of Victoria it grows usually in company with Red Gum, Yellow Gum and Stringybark, while in the central, northern and eastern districts it is also associated with Grey Box and Red Box.

Yellow Box Flowers
Yellow Box Trees

Flowering season: Yellow Box usually flowers every second year from November to February, although this can vary from year to year in different locations. As with many other Eucalypts, there are some trees which blossom out of season.

Pollen yield: Bees do not collect the pollen from Yellow Box. Where pollen-yielding plants are absent during the Yellow Box honey flow, the worker force of the colonies of bees generally diminishes owing to restricted reproduction. For optimal conditions another pollen source is required, such as River Red Gum.

Honey: Yellow Box honey is perhaps the best known of our Victorian honeys. The honey is of a pale, straw colour, very dense, aromatic, with a pronounced flavour. When pure, Yellow Box honey does not crystallise easily. However, it often contains some Red Gum honey, which crystallises within a very short time.

Red Box - Eucalyptus polyanthemos

Eucalyptus polyanthemos is considered a reliable native tree for honey production and is noted for its drought tolerance.

Appearance: Red Box, in some localities called Peppermint or Peppermint Box, is a medium size tree, growing between 7 and 25 meters high and is noted for its grey-green foliage. The trunk is often not very straight. The fibrous bark of the tree is dark-grey and continues right up to the small branches. The timber of this tree is hard and red in colour.

Leaves: The leaves are broad, oval, or egg-shaped pointed, on rather long leaf stalks. The veins of the leaves are prominent, the lateral ones oblique, the marginal ones distant from the edge.

Flowers: The flowers are generally on new growth, but also as laterals on the previous season's wood in clusters of 3 - 6 small flowers. The roundish buds appear from ten to twelve months before flowering.

Distribution: Red Box is widely spread growing in central and eastern Victoria. It is generally found on rather poor land, on stony or gravelly rises and ironstone ridges in districts with a comparatively small rainfall.  

Flowering season: Red Box usually flowers from September to November, but this can vary slightly from year to year and different locations. Some trees flower every year, in greater numbers every second year.
Red Box with Flower Buds
Pollen yield: Whilst the blossoms produce excellent nectar, they do not produce much pollen. Where pollen-yielding plants are absent during the Red Box honey flow, the worker force of the colonies of bees generally diminishes owing to restricted reproduction. For optimal conditions another pollen source is required.

Honey: Red Box honey is very pale, slightly greenish colour, very dense and aromatic. It sometimes can have a slightly oily flavour, which however disappears after twelve months storage. When pure, Red Box honey does not crystallise easily.

River Red Gum - Eucalyptus camaldulensis

Eucalyptus camaldulensis is the most widespread species of Eucalypts in Australia and one of the best known and most valuable of our timber trees, and so characteristic in general appearance that it is easily distinguished from other Eucalypts.

Appearance: River Red Gum trees often attain a height of over 35 meters; under particularly favourable circumstances up to 60 meters. The trunk is proportionately stout, with a diameter of up to 4.5 meters. The bark is smooth, ash-grey or whitish. The wood is of a dark reddish-brown and very durable.

Leaves: The leaves are slightly sickle shaped, and of the same colour on both sides.

Flowers: The flowers are usually in clusters of 4 to 14. The flower buds appear from eleven to twelve months before flowering.
River Red Gum
Distribution: The Red Gum grows along river banks and watercourses or on flood plains and is found over most of the Australian mainland. [Euclid]

Flowering season: The Red Gum tree blossoms every second year, usually the same year as Yellow Box, and concurrently with it. It flowers from December to January. The bloom does not last long on a tree, and there is not much variation in time between different trees.

Pollen yield: Red Gum also produces pollen in great quantities, and is therefore exceedingly valuable in Yellow Box country, as the pollen not only keeps the bees going in brood rearing, but also enables them to collect a good store for a time of scarcity.

Honey: The secretion of nectar is often very strong - it is in fact one of the heaviest nectar yielders. Red Gum honey is of a clear golden colour, not quite as dense as from Yellow Box, less aromatic, but of a milder and very smooth flavour. It crystallises quickly and sets very hard.

Narrow-leaved Peppermint - Eucalyptus radiata

Eucalyptus radiata - is readily distinguished from other eucalypts by the strong peppermint odour of the leaves when bruised. It is of lesser value to the beekeeper as the nectar and pollen yield is usually not very strong.
Appearance: The narrow-leaved Peppermint is a small to medium tree, up to 30 meters high with persistent bark on the straight trunk and larger branches and usually smooth higher up. The bark is shortly fibrous, grey to grey-brown, shedding in long ribbons. The branchlets are green.

Leaves: The leaves are up to 1.5 cm wide and 7–15 cm long, lance-shaped, sharply pointed, rather thin. The veins are few and oblique, not prominent. Usually the foliage is dense and drooping.

Flowers: The buds are short-pointed, generally very numerous in the umbels.

Fruit: The fruit nuts are small, with a flat or slightly concave rim.

Distribution: The narrow-leaved Peppermint Eucalypt can be found in Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania, usually occurring on poorer soils and in the cooler districts.

Flowering season: The narrow-leaved peppermint blossoms from October to December, in some districts January, February, practically every year, and rather profusely, but it does not produce much nectar and pollen.
Peppermint Gum Trunk
Peppermint flower buds
Peppermint Fruit Nuts

Pollen yield: Does not produce much pollen.

Honey: Peppermint Eucalypt honey is of a clear, medium to dark amber colour, quite dense, and of an aromatic and smooth flavour. It crystallises quickly and sets very hard.

Messmate Stringybark - Eucalyptus obliqua

Eucalyptus obliqua, commonly known as Australian Oak, Brown Top, Brown Top Stringybark, Messmate, Messmate Stringybark, Stringybark and Tasmanian Oak, is a hardwood tree native to south-eastern Australia.
Appearance: Messmate is a small to tall tree, up to 90 meters high, with a trunk up to three metres in diameter. The bark is very fibrous and rather soft and fragile, inside light brown, outside greyish or after fires black. It ignites easily and the Messmate therefore carries bushfires along more than most other trees.

Leaves: The leaves are scattered sickle or lance-shaped, equally green and shining on both sides. Their lateral veins are not very spreading, but rather prominent. The marginal vein runs distant from the edge of the leaf. The leaves of young saplings are broad, somewhat heart-shaped.

Flowers: The flowers form clusters from three to twenty blossoms and grow from the shoulders of leaves or sideways from the branches. The stalks of the umbels are slender and rather long, the flower buds long, tapering towards the stalk, and have a half-round or slightly pointed top. Buds are produced nine to eleven months before flowering.
Messmate Trees
Messmate Bark on trunk
Fruit: The fruit is cup-shaped with three to five cells (compartments).

Distribution: The Messmate is widespread in cooler areas of south eastern Australia.

Flowering season: Messmate usually flowers from January to February and rather abundantly, but not every year. Flowering has also been recorded in January, February, March, May, June, September, October and December. [Euclid]

Pollen yield: Pollen is collected by the bees from the blossom, and as the Messmate blooms late in the season it may be found useful in building up colonies for autumn and supplying them with winter stores.

Honey: Messmate honey is one of the darkest, particularly so in wet locations, reminding somewhat of molasses. It is clear, quite dense and of aromatic and strong flavour.

Silver Stringybark - Eucalyptus cephalocarpa

Eucalyptus cephalocarpa, also known as Mealy Stringybark is a small to medium sized tree, native to Victoria and parts of New South Wales.

Appearance: The tree grows to 15 metres in height and has thick, soft fibrous grey-brown, fissured bark, typical of the "peppermints", which is persistent over the whole tree, or nearly so. Silver Stringybark can be recognised by the silvery juvenile leaves, which are round and in opposite pairs.

Leaves: The leaves are lance-shaped, equally grey to blue-green and often silvery and may be in opposite pairs.

Flowers: The flowers form clusters from seven to eleven stalkless diamond-shaped buds with waxy coating, producing masses of cream flowers.  

Fruit: The fruit is silvery, flat topped, bell-shaped.

Distribution: Common around Melbourne from the eastern suburbs to the Dandenongs and south to the Mornington Peninsula. From Melbourne it extends eastwards through Gippsland, and just over the border into New South Wales. Grows on moist sand or poor clay soils in swamps and moist low slopes.
Silver Stringybark Flowers
Silver Stringybark Tree
Flowering season: Silver Stringybark usually flowers from March to August.

Pollen yield: Pollen is collected by the bees from the blossom, and as the Silver Stringybark blooms late in the season it may be found useful in building up colonies for autumn and supplying them with winter stores.

Honey: Silver Stringybark honey is fairly dark, similar to messmate honey. It is clear, quite dense and of aromatic and strong flavour.

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