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Pollen Identification

A specialist area of beekeeping

There are several specialist areas of beekeeping that some beekeepers find very interesting. The study and identification of pollen is one of them. Palynology is the general study of minute particles including pollen from the air, water or sedimentary deposits. Melissopalynology is the specific study of pollen in honey, which is usually what beekeepers are interested in.

Each species, or sub-species of plant, has a distinctive shape and structure to its pollen grains. That will be useful in helping you identify the plant source, but you need to have an accurate reference to compare it with. If you are taking pollen from a bee, plant, pollen pellet or comb you will also have the colour or the knowledge of the plant to help you. There are a several books available, but you obviously need those that are appropriate to your area.

Perhaps a botanical field guide would be useful for plant identification, but being an amateur naturalist I am aware of the importance of using botanical names, as common names can be very misleading. Don't be put off by them - they are just names, but everyone throughout the world knows what they are, unlike "bluebell" which is a common name for more than one species.

As a keen naturalist and beekeeper I am interested in the study of pollen, but I have no time to pursue it, consequently I know little about it. Little equipment is needed to enjoy an area of beekeeping that will give a lot of interest and pleasure. Obviously a microscope or access to one is required, but you or your BKA may have one. The cost apart from that is minimal.

Now a small anecdote. In June 2015 I was presenting a Bee Improvement course in Sheffield. At the same venue, Jim Pearson, a beekeeper I know from Yorkshire, was giving a pollen identification workshop to about 10 beekeepers. Jim and I both know how to laugh and we are always willing to try things out. We agreed that I would let Jim have some pollen pellets from the hives that I was demonstrating on, so he could use them for his demonstration. That created so much interest, not only in Jim's group, but mine too. At the venue there was both hawthorn and red may trees in bloom, which are very closely related. We found the pollen was very different, which we all found surprising. It was good to see so many people enthused by something like that - beekeeping has so much to offer.

The buttons on the top left will give access to external sources. If you are able to add information to this page or know of any other external sources please Email me, so we can provide help for others.

Roger Patterson.

Page updated 21/08/2022