Good news for bee fans; hemp fields may hold a worst-case cache of nutrients for hungry colonies, according to a study done by a Colorado State etymology student. Last week, Colton O’Brien presented, in a gathering of etymological societies, his discovery of a total of 23 bee genera in traps that he set up in a hemp field in August. The preponderance of the winged critters that the student found among the hemp rows indicate that the crop could have unexpected ecological value — a nice bonus should current rumblings of hemp legalization result in a boom of the plant’s commercial production.
In some ways, hemp plants are a surprising draw for bee populations. The plant does not create nectar, and its pollen is typically spread by wind, not insects. O’Brien’s month-long study was conducted at a time of year in which few other plants are growing, which may explain in part the hemp’s popularity for hungry bees on the search for sustenance. In reporting the story, ScienceNews adds that the effects of hemp pollen on bee larvae is unknown.
But it’s possible that in hard times, hemp could be a good resource for struggling bee colonies. In the November 11 presentation at yearly gathering of US and Canadian etymological societies Etymology 18, O’Brien stressed that his discovery of hemp-loving worker bees meant added responsibility for farmers. Pest-repelling techniques, he argued, should be chosen with an eye for those that have no deleterious effect on bees’ access to the hemp plants.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell proposed the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, and in an interview after the midterm elections told reporters that provisions for hemp agriculture would be included in this year’s Farm Bill. If this were to come to pass, it would mean taking hemp off the government’s list of controlled substances and legalizing the crop’s sale.
There are plenty of reasons to think of the bees. Over the past half-century, the agricultural production that depends on bees has tripled. During the same period, bee population has dipped dramatically, causing scientists to scramble for solutions from global AI hive monitoring networks to tiny QR code backpacks for individual buzzers.
Though the cannabis field study explored new territory, it’s not the first time that the relationship between bee colonies and cannabis plants has been examined. There are several projects that look at how bees can help deliver medical marijuana in a bio-accessible manner. French beekeeper Nicolas Trainerbees is among those experimenting with the interaction between bees and higher THC cannabis varieties, along with the “cannahoney” their pairing produces. Israeli company PhytoPharma sells high CBD and THC versions of Pure Bee cannabis honey in pre-measured-dosage cooking syringe, which the consumption of which, the firm says, can deliver medicinal benefits of marijuana strains efficiently to patients.
Ecological and economic import of impending hemp legislation aside, it is hard to deny that the image of emerald-stained honeybees climbing through cannabis plants holds an incredible appeal. ScienceNews’ sum-up of O’Brien’s presentation sounds like a chapter out of a Wizard of Oz book: “He caught big bumblebees, tiny metallic-green sweat bees and many others clambering around in the abundant greenish-yellow pollen shed by the male flowers.”