The Other Side of Beekeeping
The Other Side of Beekeeping - March 2014
Wild thyme, creeping thyme,thyme,mother of thyme, lemon thyme, thym sauvage, serpolet
Scientific name: Thymus serpyllum See ‘Synonyms’ below.
Synonyms: It’s not clear how to proceed with the topic Thymus serpyllum. There is a group of very variable plants that that are quite similar that have been dealt with in the literature at different times somewhat differently. Thymus serpyllum is treated by the USDA Plants Website as a synonym of both Thymus pulegioides subspecies arcticus and variety albus. It is also treated as a sometimes misapplied name of one of the subspecies of Thymus praecox. Because these plants are introductions from Europe, I thought it would be interesting to see how Flora Europaea treated Thymus serphllum. There, it seems to be treated as a species, but with what seems like a long list of names for it that have been used historically in the literature. Much of the beekeeping literature that deals with this plant uses Thymus serpyllum and it is also under that name specimens I photographed were identified, and I have no way to identify into which situation mentioned above they fit. As a result, I have decided to use that name here. I have also provided distribution maps of both Thymus pulegioides and Thymus praecox as well as photographs of both. Names used with photographs presented here were the names applied to the plants when they were photographed. This is the problem with very variable species, and I don’t expect it to become simpler with more DNA analysis of highly variable and/or closely related plant species.
Origin: Hortus Third indicates the origin of Thymus serpyllum is Northwestern Europe whereas Rehder indicates Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa as the origin while Gleason and Cronquist states simply, Europe.
Plant description: As pointed out above, Thymus serpyllum is a very variable species. It is a diffusely branched, mat-forming perennial, rooting at the nodes1. The stems are woody at base. The floral stems are more or less erect to 10 cm (~3.9 in) and are pubescent all around or on opposite sides of the more or less 4-sided stems characteristic of the mint family. According to Rehder, the plant may also be caespitose (with dense vertical tufts). The leaves are short-stemmed (nearly sessile). The leaf blades are variously described as linear to subround, ovate, elliptic, oblong, oblong-ovate, and linear2. In addition to the definitions below see the article by Kennon Lorick in the October 2013 ABJ. A picture is worth a thousand words! In length they are variously described as 5 to 10 mm (0.22 to 0.39 in) , 5 to 12 mm (~0.22 to 0.47in) and 5/16 inch (~4 mm).
The flowers are aggregated in a continuous or interrupted terminal inflorescence 1 to 4 cm (~039 to 1.57in) and rarely up to 15 cm (5.9 in) in length. The calyx is pubescent, the corolla is purplish and 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long and the stamens project above the corolla.[4, 8 &15]
Distribution: In North America the species is commonly cultivated and escapes into upland woods and fields. Merwin describes the habitat in the Catskill area of New York where the species had become abundant as “This plant will grow and thrive on land too poor for other grasses3 to grow. There is no land too poor no winter too cold and no summer too dry for this plant”. In Europe, the species is found on dry slopes, grassland dunes and bushy places.
Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist and Rehder state that in the Northeastern United States, the species blooms from June to September. Pellett relays information from J. B. Merwin from Prattsville, NY that it is an ideal honey plant, in that it begins to bloom about the 15th of July just as the basswood finishes its bloom, and then continues until there is a killing frost, which sometimes comes as late as November. John Lovell indicates that the plant blooms in the area stretching from Nova Scotia to Pennsylvania from July to August. Harvey Lovell provides the information that the species blooms July 25 to August 20 in the Catskill Region of New York and slightly later in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.
Importance as a honey plant: Oertel from his questionnaires found Thymus serpyllum to be of some importance in New York and Massachusetts and the genus Thymus to be of some importance in Vermont and Massachusetts. Robinson and Oertel found the genus Thymus to be of some importance in what they called Northern region of the U.S. (CT, IL, IN, IA, ME, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, and WI). Most likely the genus was not important in all the states listed in this region. Ayers and Harman, from their questionnaires, found the genus Thymus to be of some importance in Massachusetts.
Crane et al. rates the species’ honey production from different parts of the world as N1, N2 and N3 (major, medium and minor source of nectar respectively). They also supply secretion rates of 0.16 and 0.18 mg/floret/day and nectar sugar concentrations of 26.9%, 42.8%, 27-45%, and 30.1%, all of which they consider medium. They provide sugar values of 0.043-0.77mg/floret/day, which they consider low.
Honey potential: Crane et al. supply the following yield data from different parts of the world.
U. S.: 57kg/colony/year (~125 lb/ colony/year) (rated high). This data apparently comes from the Merwin letter to Pellett mentioned above where it was claimed that honey yields as high as 125 lbs (56.8 kg) per colony had been produced in the above described area
Bulgaria: 40.8 kg/ha (~36.4lbs/Acre)
Europe: 48 to 161 kg/ha (~42.8 to 189.7 lbs/acre), but included some Thymus Pulegioides honey.
Poland: 48 kg/ha (~43.7 lbs/acre) , 149 kg/ha (~89.1 lbs/ acre); 100 to 200 kg/ha; (~89.1 to 224.5 lbs/acre).
Romania: 80 to 120 kg/ha (~71.3 to 106.9 lbs/acre)
In an article in the 1914 Gleanings in Bee Culture J. B. Merwin4 from Prattsville, NY (Greene Co.5) claimed that the areas along the roads, as well as pastures for miles in each direction, both of which he notes were not ordinarily tilled, were carpeted with wild thyme. He claimed it so thick and lush that a person driving along, looking over the landscape, would think it plowed and the soil was that of red slate when in reality it was the pink blossoms of the wild thyme. Walking on it was like walking on a thick piled carpet known as “Brussels carpet”. The area just described seems to have been a relatively isolated patch several miles in diameter. Over a 20 year period he claimed it never failed to yield some “summer savory”, the local name for the honey. During one exceptionally poor year, he secured 6000 lbs (~2727 kg) of honey with 170 colonies while a comb honey producer several miles away and outside the “thyme belt”, as he called it, produced not an ounce of honey. Another year, starting with 60 colonies, he claims to have produced over 4000 lbs (~1818 kg) of comb honey from the plant as well as being able to increase the number of hives to 85. Another local comb honey producer produced 800 lbs. with 60 colonies.
Harvey Lovell claims that 50 to 75 lbs of surplus honey were often stored from the plant and one beekeeper (M. P. Traphagen) once had a colony that stored 150 lbs. The area seems likely to have been the Catskill Region of New York and Berkshire Hills Region of western Massachusetts. John Lovell states that the plant very abundantly secretes nectar that has an aromatic flavor.
Honey: White provides data from a single sample of ....