The Locusts Are Coming!

That’s right – in the latter part of May, Rye’s streets, sidewalks, and cars will be covered with locusts. 

Published May 16, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read

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locust-thThat’s right – in the latter part of May, Rye’s streets, sidewalks, and cars will be covered with locusts. 

 

By Bill Lawyer

Black-locust-flowersThat’s right – in the latter part of May, Rye’s streets, sidewalks, and cars will be covered with locusts.  

But not the kind mentioned in descriptions of Biblical plagues — those nasty, grasshopper-like insects destroy crops and wreak havoc — nor cicadas, which are sometimes confused with locusts.  

No, these are the flowers of the black locust trees, and they’re a good thing.  The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned.  

That’s because the nectar found in the flowers of the locust trees is one of honeybees’ main source for making honey.

And I love honey.  

Some people may not notice the thousands of black locust tree flowers when they’re in bloom, because locusts tend to be very tall (up to 70 feet), and the flowers are high up among the leaves.  

But on a breezy day, the locust blossoms come drifting down in large quantities.

Many locust trees are growing wild around Rye – as they are able to thrive in poor quality soil and growing conditions. Lots can be found along what I call “Locust Lane” – the path along Blind Brook between the Milton cemetery and Oakland Beach Avenue. Rye even named an avenue after the trees!  

 
Locust-LaneUrban beekeeper Deborah Long is a strong proponent of black locust trees.  As she puts it: “The benefits of planting black locust for honeybees have long been recognized. Bees are drawn to the fragrance of the nectar-rich blossoms. An acre of black locusts is said to produce 800 to 1,200 pounds of honey.

 

Moreover, they bloom late enough in spring that the blossoms are rarely damaged by frost; thus, they are a reliable annual source for bees.”

Black locust flowers grow in long clusters on stems of pinnate leaves.  Eventually the flowers fall off, leaving the seeds to develop in long, curving pods or legumes.

But for ten to 14 days, the flowers produce sweet, fragrant nectar that attracts honeybees like bears to honey, so to speak.  

Some beekeepers draw down the locust honey before it can get mixed with the nectar of other flowering plants.  They claim that the “pure” locust honey is the best.  It is often sold under the name acacia honey, as black locusts are related to the acacia trees found in parts of Europe and Asia.  

I actually like honey that comes from many different floral sources – I think it has a more complex flavor and aroma.  But I’m still glad we have locust flowers to jumpstart the bees’ springtime honey-making operation.  

In the United States we’re used to hearing about invasive plants that have come to our country from other parts of the world – usually bringing problems along with them.

In the case of black locust trees, however, it’s the other way around.  Black locusts are native to North America, but early explorers and traders were so impressed with them, and their nectar-making ability, that they brought trees and seeds back with them – particularly to Great Britain, Europe, and the Middle East.  One was planted in Paris in 1601!

According to scientists, the pods and seeds of black locusts are poisonous, but the flowers themselves are edible.  

Linda Louis, a French gardening blogger and author of “La Cuisine Campagne,” describes a recipe for beignets (the French version of a fritter) flavored with the locust petals. Read more at www.cuisine-campagne.com/ index.php?post/2007/05/07/250-beignets-de-fleurs-d-acacia.

This spring, I’m going to give it a try – after all, there are plenty of flowers all around – right in our backyards. 

 

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