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Published 14 June 2018

What makes mānuka nectar attractive to bees?

The latest issue of the New Zealand Journal of Botany is now available for access. Highlighted is an article from a Plant and Food Research team that is investigating some of the factors influencing mānuka nectars powerful healing properties.

The New Zealand Journal of Botany (NZJB) aims to share peer-reviewed research relevant to the botany, mycology, and phycology of New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere. It welcomes submissions relevant to all aspects of the botany, mycology, and phycology of the South Pacific, Australia, South America, and Southern Africa. The latest issue of NZJB, issue 56 volume 2 contains a range of articles including one authored by Bruce Smallfield, Nigel Joyce and John van Klink from Plant and Food Research.

NZJB cover 562 Custom

Relatively little is known about mānuka nectar and the factors controlling its production. In this Plant and Food research team's article ‘Developmental and compositional changes in Leptospermum scoparium nectar and their relevance to mānuka honey bioactives and markers’, the variation in nectar composition throughout mānuka flower development was measured in greenhouse cultivated plants.

Mānuka honey is recognised as one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world and is renowned for its medicinal properties. It's uses range from healing sore throats and stomach aches to a natural antibacterial agent for treating gingivitis and superficial wounds. The UMF label seen on mānuka honey jars stands for 'Unique Mānuka Factor', which rates the potency of the honey.

The bioactivity of mānuka honey is thought to come from methylglyoxal (MG), with increased concentrations of the compound strengthening the antibiotic effect. In this journal article, it was observed that concentrations of sugars and of dihydroxyacetone (the precursor to MG) increased throughout the mānuka flowers development and maximised just prior to the flower’s degradation. Other patterns of mānuka compound markers followed a similar trend throughout the flowers lifespan. The results of the study suggest that the biosynthesis of mānuka’s special properties occurs in the floral tissues of the plant.

Mānuka honey production now plays a significant role in New Zealand's agricultural economy and further research into the complex interactions in nectar production could help maximise mānuka honey yields. Although it is difficult to control which plants bees visit, developing knowledge of both the genetics and the chemistry influencing flower attractiveness is an area of research that warrants further investigation. The mānuka genome has recently been mapped, which will provide researchers with new tools to further investigate mānuka diversity.

The full article is available for access in the latest issue of New Zealand Journal of Botany at Taylor and Francis Online.