The “acacia” flow is over here in southern France. As is done each year, beekeepers are now estimating how good the final crop will be. This is one of the finest of Provençal honeys and commands a premium price in most markets. The plant is grown all across Europe as well. I remember during the Hungarian Apimondia meeting in 1983, when participants were given a tour of the acacia groves there. It was the only time I have ever seen a program designed to systematically improve nectar production in a plant. At that time, Hungarians were attempting to both increase nectar secretion and timber quality from this important plant. Thus, I was pleased to see my plant friend again when I came to France. The story of this plant is admirably told in the 1978 edition of the Bulletin Technique Apicole, published by O.P.I.D.A (L’office pour l’information et la documentation en apiculture). It is “Fiche Technique” found in Volume 5 (No. 4), pp. 33-40, authored by J. Albisetti.
Imagine the surprise of a newcomer here from the United States, therefore, upon discovering this plant isn’t “acacia” at all. It’s really “false acacia,”Robinia pseudoacacia, and wonder of wonders, was originally transported around the world from its native habitat in the Allegeny and Appalachian mountains. The King’s gardener, J. Robin, introduced the plant to France in 1601. It is in fact known as “black locust” in its native regions, I was informed by Steve Taber, who recently left France to return to his southern roots. It is the same plant I remember growing on the high banks of the Ohio River where the old National Road crosses that waterway at Wheeling, West Virginia.
The “robiniers” as they are called here in France are in the rose order and legume family. Three species of the twenty that exist worldwide have been naturalized in the country. In general, they are not well exploited by bees because of their early and short flowering time. I remember the black locust flow as notoriously unpredictable and temperamental on the banks of the Ohio. The later it flowers in France, the more nectar collecting possibilities occur, about 7.5 percent increase per day delayed, acccording to the article. The French are also aware of the history of their Hungarian cousins in culturing the acacia, and data show that a silvo-apicultural program is possible here too, the article concludes.
The honey bee’s yearly gathering of Pseuodacacia Robinia honey in Europe is just one of many interesting results of human intervention in the biology of planet earth. The French-American relationship is filled with these as well. It ranges from American root stock in French vineyards to the fine Franco-grape varieties now grown in California. Beekeeping in southern France really has few monofloral crops to look forward to; prospects would be much poorer without this American vegetational heritage. For that matter, where would U.S. beekeeping be without introduction of that most ubiquitous of old world insects, Apis mellifera?