Reprinted from The Environmentor, vol. 11 no 1, pp. 15-16

Folktale “A Drop of Honey”

The king and his prime minister sat on the balcony, looking down into the town square and enjoying tea with honey cakes. The king bit into a honey cake as he leaned over the balcony to watch his people's activities. A drop of honey fell onto the balcony rail. “Dear me,” he said, “I'm making a mess. I'll wipe it up.”
“Don't bother, Sire,” assured the prime minister. “The servants will tend to it later. I have serious news from our spies.”

But as the sun shone on that drop, it melted and dripped down into the town square below. The king watched with amusement as flies gathered on it. “Ha! One drop of honey is a feast for the flies.”

“Indeed,” drawled the prime minister, “but you and I must discuss what to do about the rebels in the north.”

They talked matters of state, but the king noticed activity below. “Look! A lizard has crept out of the wall to feast on those flies. And now a cat is stalking the lizard!”

“Yes sir,” acknowledged the prime minister,” but we need to make military plans against the rebels.”

Suddenly there were angry voices from below. The king looked down. “It appears that somebody's dog has attacked that cat, and now the animals' owners are arguing!”

The prime minister was not interested. “Let them settle it. No problem for us, when we have more important things to discuss.”

Voices became shouts as friends of the animals' owners took sides and began fighting. “We should do something,” said the king.

The prime minister gestured to a servant. “Send the palace guard to break up this brawl.” He turned to the king. “Now, as I was saying, rumors from the north...”

And so the king and prime minister discussed politics while their guards cleared the square below, leaving easy access for rebel assassins to slip into the palace. 

By sunset the heads of the king and prime minister were on pikes in the town wall and the town was in rebel hands. All because of a drop of honey.

Fact Tale: Honeysuckle, Deer, and Disease

Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)) is a landscaper's dream. Unlike honeysuckle vines (L. japonica), it grows in bush form that can be clipped into dense hedges that are covered with sweet-scented pink or white blossoms in spring, followed by juicy red berries that birds enjoy. It puts out its dark green leaves earlier in spring than many native shrubs and keeps them longer in fall, and resists attack from most native pests. What's not to love? People planted it widely in their yards.

In recent years, berry-loving birds have carried amur honeysuckle's seeds into woodlands throughout the northeastern states (and now advancing into Oklahoma), where its rapid growth out-competes many native understory plants including the seedlings of the mature trees. Some forests in Ohio and Missouri have almost nothing but Amur honeysuckle crowding the ground under the trees, producing semi-evergreen thickets that shelter and feed burgeoning populations of deer. Hunters might say, no problem there!

Unfortunately, the deer bring ticks which carry several diseases that are of concern to humans. Deer ticks spread Lyme disease, caused by Borelia bacteria. Lonestar ticks and black-legged ticks spread several species of Erlichia bacteria causing erlichiosis, with symptoms ranging from flu-like to life-threatening brain inflammation and organ failure.

How can you blame the pretty Amur honeysuckle for human diseases? A researcher compared honeysuckle-free Missouri woodlands with honeysuckle-invaded zones and found five times as many deer in the invaded zones (which had 18x as much plant matter). The invaded zones also had 10 times as many Erlichia-infected ticks. For a controlled experiment, he removed honeysuckle from some of the invaded patches and soon found fewer deer and fewer infected ticks in those patches.

These results suggested that removal of Amur honeysuckle could lower the risk of tick-borne illness in [deer and] humans, while at the same time preserving native forest understory flora and fauna.

Like ignored drops of honey, invasive plants can lead to serious consequences.

Folktale source:

This story comes from a collection of classic tales that were used to train royal officials in Burma (now called Myanmar). It helped them remember to pay attention even to small things, which can trigger large effects.

A Kingdom Lost for a Drop of Honey and other Burmese Folktales Maung Htin Aung and Helen G Trager, Parents Magazine Press 1968.

Contemporary American retellings often have the prime minister repeat “Not our problem” at each step the king notices. But it did lead to a problem!

Fact sources:

Invasive honeysuckle eradication reduces tick-borne disease risk by altering host dynamics has a map showing that L. maackii is already present in several Oklahoma counties