Yellow Jessamine- pretty, fragrant, and…toxic to honey bees?

Photo by H. Zell, 2009

I just went on a trip to East Texas. While I was there, I heard a lot about the Yellow Jessamine plant (Gelsemium sempervirens) and its deadly effect on honey bee larvae. Yellow Jessamine (often referred to as yellow jasmine) is the state flower of South Carolina, and is often used in landscaping and gardens for its beauty and fragrance. The plants contain alkaloids that are toxic to humans and other vertebrates.

Many beekeepers in East Texas report having experienced weakened colonies due to Yellow Jessamine. When I searched through the scientific literature, I found no published studies on the effects of Yellow Jessamine, or the toxic alkaloids found in its pollen and nectar, on honey bees. However, its toxic effects were described in a 1936 USDA report: young workers are affected and die soon, whereas older adult bees appear normal. Larvae and pupae die in cells and become mummified, and the colony can be slightly to severely weakened by using it as a food source (Burnside and Vansell 1936).

Beekeepers reported that, during the bloom, younger bees can often be found dead on the bottom board. The bees act weird, as if they are intoxicated, and are less active. If the poisoning is bad, brood often dies. It seems to affect queen breeders the most. Beekeepers have reporting having low success rates when trying to raise queen cells during bloom.

Yellow Jessamine is native to the Southeast US, and blooms early in the spring. The effects seem to be much worse early in the season, before there is a consistent flow of non toxic pollen.

If you have any pictures of brood or queen cells that have died as a result of Yellow Jessamine, we would really like to see them. You can email them to koeni309 (at) umn.edu.

 

 

Burnside, C.E., and G.H. Vansell. 1936. Plant poisoning of bees. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, No. E–398.

Written By: Phoebe Koenig

Phoebe Koenig has written 4 post in this blog.

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  • susanrudnicki

    I would caution that the plant named is not the inherent problem, but the fact that Apis mellifera is NOT native to the Northern Hemisphere. Native bees and butterflies that evolved with the flora of the country are unaffected by plants that poison A. melliera. In California, we have Aesculus californica, or California Buckeye, which is poisonous to honey bees. It is important that beekeepers KNOW their flora, a defect I have noticed a lot in beekeepers, oddly enough. Here is a article about CA Buckeye http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/Not-all-plants-are-safe-for-bees-3226596.php

    • Phoebe Koenig

      Hi Susan, thank you for commenting! You are absolutely right- I do not mean to imply that the plant is an inherent problem. When searching through the literature, I found some papers about how yellow jessamine alkaloids affect native bees, and I am planning on doing a follow up blog about that 🙂 It does not seem like they are necessarily unaffected, though some native bees seem to a avoid the alkaloids. Perhaps honey bees do not. Anyways, a topic for another blog! Thanks for the buckeye link

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