Tutin in Toxic Honey – Searching for Tutu while Treasure Hunting

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The Tutu Plant


We decided to go away for Auckland anniversary weekend. So while I was out and out in the Coromandel bush pursuing another one of my hobbies (Locating treasure with a GPS device or Geocaching).

I had heard that Tutin in honey is more of a problem in the Coromandel Peninsular. I managed to find quite a bit of it on my tramp/walk with Snow our dog.

Tutu is a native plant in New Zealand, which can produce toxic honey. Toxic honey is a rare event and is more likely to occur when comb honey is eaten directly from a hive that has been harvesting honeydew from passion vine hoppers feeding on tutu plants. The resulting nectar produces toxic honey, which if consumed in large quantities can cause issues for humans. It causes no ill effects to the bees. The insect that feeds on the Tutin tree is known as a “fluffy bum”, Latin name Scolypopa australis.

There are ten different species in NZ and all are poisonous. Species range in height from 50 cm high to 6 m high, with shiny green leaves and green flowers.

It’s a good idea to watch these trees in your local area for any signs of the fluffy bums on the Tutu Plants. This is a good sign that your honey may contain the toxin Tutin. If you sell your honey commercially you are required by law to get it tested before sale. It’s probably not a bad idea to get I’m tested anyway, if you live in high risk area. Do you really want to poison your kids or friends?

I didn’t spot any “fluffy bums” on the Tutu Plants today, the only fluffy bum I saw was on our dog “snow” but she doesn’t count.

Something had been feasting on some if the trees, but looks more like caterpillar damage according to our resident gardener Margaret.

I’d you are based in the Waiomu area here are some GPS locations of Tutu plants that I found in your area to observe.

S 37 01.583 E 175 32.650
S 37 01.567 E 175 32.590
S 37 01.610 E 175 32.083
S 37 01.593 E 175 31.748
S 37 01.578 E 175 31.674

You can type these in Google Earth if you don’t have a GPS Device.

You will often find Tutu plants on the side of steams or rivers, go out and see if you can spot any. Can you see any fluffy bums? Comment here if you do with the general area.

Here are some more photos of my walk

2 thoughts on “Tutin in Toxic Honey – Searching for Tutu while Treasure Hunting

  1. Aaron Fox says:

    Tutin contamination of honey, particularly comb honey, is a problem anywhere in New Zealand north of Kaikoura. Low risk areas for the production of tutin contaminated honey are only in the South Island below latitude 42 degrees South including all offshore islands below latitude 42 degrees South.

    All producers of honey products destined for human consumption need to comply with the Tutin in Honey Food Standard. You can download a copy here:

    http://www.foodsafety.govt.nz/elibrary/industry/tutin-honey-standard-2010.pdf

    The compliance guide for this standard details just how dangerous tutin can be to humans:

    http://www.foodsafety.govt.nz/elibrary/industry/tutin-compliance-guide-2010.pdf

    From Page 5 of this guide: Ingestion of tutin can be lethal, or make a person very unwell. It is generally accepted that as little as 1 teaspoon (approximately 10 ml) of toxic honey can have a severe effect on the human nervous system. Symptoms include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor, coma and violent convulsions.

    Not something to be taken lightly, particularly by honey producers, commercial and amateur alike.

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