Marchalina Hellenica and the pine forests of Sfakia

Detail of a pine tree infested with Marchalina hellenica

Detail of a pine tree infested with Marchalina hellenica

Those of you that have been visiting the Lefka Ori of Sfakia and especially if you have been walking from Anopolis towards Mouri and the higher mountain peaks or towards Agios Ioannis and from there in other directions such as Selouda and down to Agios Pavlos and Agia Roumeli, you would not have failed to see the large number of pine trees that are dying or are already dead. You most probably would have noticed a white fluffy substance covering most branches, even the trunk of the trees in many instances. This is the impact of a scale insect, the Marchalina hellenica that produces a substance that honey bees collect for the production of honey.

Honey producers have been known to artificially infest pine trees which then provide the food that their bees gather for producing honey. This is a far more productive process as compared with the bees gathering food from wild flowers over a far more extended area. The end result is more honey for the producers at the longer term ecological cost to the pine forests and a deteriorating quality of the product. Anyone that has tasted real thyme honey would be able to tell the difference between that and what some times is referred to as pine honey.

Honey producers have been resisting over the years the spraying of diseased trees on the basis that this will kill their bees although the authorities have determined ecological organic sprays that would not harm the environment. You have the usual situation of short term gain as against the longer term ecological damage that in itself would also destroy, in the longer term, the benefit that honey producers gain today.

After years of indecision it appears that some action might be taken, but as with political issues of this type, it may take some time before we will see some effective action. As part of the EU “SylvaMED: Mediterranean Forests for All” initiative a conference was held at Anopolis last week, titled “The pine forests of Anopolis / Agios Ioannis and honey production” aimed at informing honey producers on ways to improve their activity and proposals relating to the management of Marchalina hellenica. For the full reports, in Greek only, see the article at Haniotika Nea

Dead pine tree near Anopolis

Dead pine tree near Anopolis

As a result of this conference, there was an announcement that a study had been commissioned to assess the damage that has been caused to the pine forests in the area, the dangers of spreading in nearby areas and the related danger of fires from the dead pine trees that could spread further away from the affected areas, including into the Samaria protected area. Details of this announcement are provided in this article (in Greek). Interesting though is a related comment by a scientist who questions that the damage is cause by this insect, as she claims this insect has been around for centuries, is a positive contributor to honey production and there might be other reasons for the dying of the pine forests.

Certainly this is a very political issue and I don’t see it being resolved very soon. Personally I am on the side of Sfakian thyme honey!


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8 Responses to Marchalina Hellenica and the pine forests of Sfakia

  1. Solveig Gadd says:

    Interesting reading!

  2. Barbara says:

    Thank you Yorgo for that interesting article. I always wondered what could be the cause of so many pine trees dying in this area and if anybody cares and intends to do something against it. It made me always feel so sad when I was passing by those infected or dead trees. So I’m glad to hear that a study on this damage will take place and hope some actions will follow.

  3. DavidA says:

    I had given up hope that anyone would care. Those majestic wonderful ancient forests are so important. We have watched over the years as the trees have been felled – particularly towards Selouda. I am not optimistic: let us have a study and then a report and then we will consider the report and then we will look at it again – but I hope that I am very wrong. Those forests were magical.

  4. Jean says:

    An interesting study in Attica ( ) seems to indicate that the problem could be handled with better management of the forest. If there is no need for pesticides then there is no risk to bees and beekeepers would not object. It’s good to see some action (or at least some interest in the local press) though.

    • Barry Cropper says:

      The study in Attica was especially interesting – I had previously thought that it was insect infestation which was solely responsible for the death of so many trees so its good to see that there may be sustainable ways of handling the problem.

  5. Wiltrud Klundt says:

    Thank you George for the information. Hopefully some actions will soon take place, but we all know that mending is a long process in those matters. For years the dammage is obvious but I was ignorant of the cause. I will choose cretan honey very carefully in future. Every single tree – especially in those areas – should be treasured. There are not so many of them.

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  7. Aysen Gurel-Sile says:

    Our monumental Pine trees trees on the Agean coast of Turkey are dying and everybody admits that the trees are infected on purpose for the honey production of bees. We don’t want to harm the birds, good insects and the underwater resources, but what can we do to save them. They are about 109 year old pine trees, very tall and big. Couple of them have already died.
    Please share information with me if there is a solution.

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