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Pollen profiles in Mayo honey, microscopes and paleontology on a crisp sunny Sunday in Galway

posted Sep 24, 2018, 1:31 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Sep 24, 2018, 1:49 PM ]
Bearing in mind that we have yet to take our federation exam in microscopy, and how challenging it is to source local mentorship, we took ourselves off to meet Dr Karen Mollloy after attending the Western Beekeepers Alliance lecture series on Saturday 22nd September in NUIG. Karen studied Botany in Trinity College Dublin and subsequently completed her PhD in NUIG.  Whilst she now lectures on pollen identification of plant material present in soil columns  processed in the Geography department, she showed us a library of pollen slides which were prepared in the seventies, the majority of which were from plants and trees visited by honey bees.  We very quickly found common ground because pollen from the ancient bog soil columns does not differ all that much from modern pollen taken fresh from the same pollinator friendly plant species today. 

The preserved pollen had gone through extensive preparation with various acids and other strong chemicals which eliminates all organic material and leaves only the sporopollenin "skeleton" which is used to categorise and identify the plants from which it originated. We used a text book to key out a few slides and got familiar with deciphering the many three furrowed pollens (with or without pores) which seem to predominate in our local ecosystem. Of course it would take weeks to become fluent in both the descriptive language and all of the surface types and pollen shapes but we found it was just what we needed to be able to make further progress in our own time.  We had access to a couple of teaching microcsopes and even got to have a look at a sample using one of the research microscopes back in the paleoecology unit on distillery road, using a phase contrast lens, which has to sometimes be used when a sharper image is needed to fully key out an unknown pollen.

We are indebted to Dr Molloy for giving of her time and resources so freely, and I am certain that we will remain in contact and continue to work together on creating a list of plants visited by honey bees, and a cross reference of the pollen in question.  In time, we will be analysing our own honey from different apiaries.  This will enable us to create a list of pollen typical of honey from different localities, but more importantly, it helps to assure the customer that our honey is indeed local and not blended with, for example, a mono-floral honey from another part of the country or indeed, from outside Ireland.