Friday, August 5, 2011


[Walking back down into the beech forest at Woolshed Creek]

On our way back from Hakatere, we stopped for a hike up Woolshed creek. Much of the trail meandered through beech forest, some of what's left of New Zealand's native forest. One thing that has always puzzled me on my various excursions into the beech forest were the seemingly random trees that were entirely covered in a black powdery substance with little white tendrils sticking out. This time, on the vague memory of something our honey seller at the Farmer's Market had told me, I bent to a blackened beech and tasted the tiny droplet of liquid hanging on the end of the white tendril. It was delicious! And it's called honeydew.

[Harvesting Honeydew the slow way]

Now honeydew is tasty, but you certainly have to wrap your mind around it's source in order to fully enjoy this tasty forest treat. Honeydew is the excretion of a tiny scale insect that lives under the bark of the tree. The white tubules that extends out of the trunk are posterior extensions of the tiny Ultracoelostoma brittini, which when they bite into the phloem of the tree (where the sap runs) exudes the sap that is pushed through the insects body due to the high pressure. Not all that appetizing to think about, but the flavour you get from the tiny droplet is amazing. Honeydew is collected by bees, though not in the same way I did with my tongue. Instead, the bees forage under the bark to where the insects are tucked away.

Also of interest, is why the trees turn the fuzzy black colour. When the insects bite into the phloem, sap invariably runs outside the insect and down the trees' trunk. It is on this sticky substrate that a black sooty mould grows (Capnodium). Often the mould extends quite a ways around the base of the tree, making it look like a fire burn.

I love learning about the wonders of the forest here, especially when there's delicious food involved. The world is a pretty special place and finding these treasures makes it that much more fun.

{Most of the information was taken from the Airborne's New Zealand Honey Collections Website at}

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