How can the American black locust become a “Hungaricum”? Just ask Fidesz

Way back in  2008 the decision was made that the European Commission should take over the fight against alien invasive species in the territories of the Union. Although zoologists and biologists of the member countries had urged their governments to act, little progress had been made. Finally, it was decided that the problem must be handled centrally.

Years have gone by, but then we know that the EU’s bureaucracy is not known for its speedy resolution of issues. The bill was presented to the European Parliament only in September 2013, and it was in January of this year that the European Parliament discussed the matter. It turned out that at the urging of Hungarian scientists the European Union was planning to put the Robinia pseudoacacia, known in Hungary as white acacia, on the alien invasive species list. The plan is not to eradicate the acacia tree–that would be an impossibility–but rather to check its spread.


This particular variety of acacia tree is native to the United States. Interestingly, it  is called the black locust in this country. Black locust trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountain regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio in addition to some areas farther west in Oklahoma and Arkansas. It is considered to be an invasive species here as well, and its control is regulated. American scientists admit that “control of black locust is difficult and no technique has been identified as entirely effective.”  The most cost-effective method is prevention.  Hungarian scientists are of the same opinion, and since 2009 the white acacia has been on the Hungarian list of alien invasive species. The Hungarian decision was made at that time without any pressure from the outside. Yet in the last few months the Orbán government has fought tooth and nail against the inclusion of the acacia on the EU’s list of undesirable species.

The hysteria about the fate of the acacia was initiated by Béla Glattfelder, a Fidesz member of the EP, who rose in the European Parliament during the debate of the bill to protest the “attack” on the acacia tree, which is considered to be an important agricultural asset for Hungary. After all, half of all acacia trees in the European Union can be found in Hungary and the tree is an important source of income for tens of thousands of people, especially beekeepers and owners of private forests. He emphasized that honey made out of the flowers of the acacia is a true “Hungaricum.” In addition, acacia wood is a valuable building material.

As soon as he got wind of what was under foot, he alerted owners of acacia forests and beekeepers, who formed an alliance to “combat the domestic and foreign endeavors to limit the spread of the acacia.” The coalition under Glattfelder’s guidance started lobbying to have both the acacia tree and acacia honey be declared  “Hungaricums.”

Glattfelder is an old Fidesz hand. He was a member of the Hungarian parliament between 1990 and 2004. In 2000 he also became undersecretary in the ministry of economics, dealing mostly with agricultural matters. Since 2004 he has been a member of the Fidesz delegation to the European Union. His name does not, however, appear among those who might represent Fidesz after the 2014 EP election. So this may be Glattfelder’s last hurrah in Brussels.

After Glattfelder sounded the alarm, the Hungarian ministry of agriculture moved into action. The ministry made it clear that the Hungarian government will fight the impending legislation. It is as outlandish to eliminate the acacia tree as it would be to forbid the growth of corn. As if anyone planned the eradication of the acacia tree.

The hysteria spread far and wide, with assistance coming from Glattfelder and Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture. Headlines like these have appeared in the last three or four months: “What will happen to the acacia? Will the Union destroy it?” Or “Hungarian honey and acacia forests are in danger!”

By the end of February the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Ecological Institute felt that it was time to enlighten the Hungarian public on the true state of affairs. The scientists pointed out that the information that had appeared in the Hungarian media was “based on the most outrageous misconceptions and false allegations.” The institute tried to set the record straight but, as we will see later, not with great success.

The acacia forests are not endangered. On the contrary, acacia trees grow on 463,000 hectares, about a third of all Hungarian forests. Since 1990 the area with acacia trees has grown by 150,000 hectares and it is still growing. The real problem is that acacia trees are all over, along country roads, sometimes very close to areas under ecological protection. They spread rapidly. There are places where they managed to eradicate native flowers, even animals. The scientists specifically mention Echinops ruthenicus (szamárkenyér), about whose blue flowers Sándor Petőfi wrote lovingly in 1844. Because of the acacia they are now practically nonexistent. According to the scientists, 200,000 hectares are currently threatened by “the acacia invasion.” What they would like to prevent is the tree’s spread into this 200,000 hectare area.

Of course, the scientists didn’t manage to counteract the hysteria created by Fidesz and the Hungarian government. On March 12 Sándor Fazekas held a forum in Kunhegyes close to the area where there is perhaps the largest concentration of acacia trees in Hungary. Here he indignantly stated that the Union has no right whatsoever to tell Hungarians what kinds of trees they can grow in their own country. In his opinion, the acacia tree is a “Hungaricum” whose spread should be encouraged.

A day after, on March 13,  Hungary using a legal loophole vetoed the draft bill in the Council of Europe. It was a compromise bill that had already been accepted in the European Parliament. That bill didn’t mention the acacia or any other offending species. But Hungary refused to sign it because they didn’t receive a 100% guarantee that acacia would not be on the list.

For a while it looked as if Hungary had managed to avert “the danger” to the would-be Hungaricum. The Hungarian government was elated, but then came the letdown. A week after the veto the Council of Europe passed the draft bill. Mind you, the fate of the acacia is still not clear. No explicit guarantee came from Janez Potocnik, the commissioner responsible for environmental issues, but the Hungarian government hopes that its lobbying was not in vain. The final bill will be voted on only in the fall of 2015.

Meanwhile we are being told that the American black locust will be a Hungaricum.


  1. Hungary can be miserable in pollen season for all of us with acacia allergies!

  2. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Külügyminisztérium),
    Hungaricum: all that is inimitable, unique, distinct – and Hungarian

    Click to access Hungaricum_en.pdf

    I suppose they will have to update the definition. Maybe whiskey is next in line.

  3. That’s a funny story – in a way.

    I’ve already wondered about those bloody trees growing everywhere – though I must confess that acacia honey is one of our favourites and we also bring several kilos to our friends in Germany every year. Of course we buy it from one of our neighbours.

    Soon the robinias will be blooming …

    To limit their growth might be a good idea however – they are like a weed!

  4. Contrary to paprika that was already present in Hungary in 16th Century (although it was not a “staple” product until the 18th Century), acacia did not arrive to Europe until the 18th Century and spread to Hungary in the 19th Century.

    I would like to point out that the European Union does not want to eradicate acacia, and they would like to provide money to Hungary to help save its native species while keep acacia under control. Any other information from Fidesz currently is a lie.

    The Minister of Rural Development of the Fidesz government issued the following statement on the Hungarian Government’s website: “Our view is that acacia must be declared a Hungaricum and instead of persecuting the species, more should be planted”, Mr. Fazekas underlined.

    I hope they will not plant more at the expense of the other Hungaricum the paprika, or at the expense of the Hungarian wines, as acacia is actually love the same soil and environment. Maybe Orban’s wife wants to give up her wineries and plant some acacia.

  5. “For a while it looked as if Hungary had managed to avert “the danger” to the would-be Hungaricum. The Hungarian government was elated, but then came the letdown. A week after the veto the Council of Europe passed the draft bill.”

    Maybe it is a good idea not to write in topic areas where the author is not able to understand even the basics. Such as what the Council of Europe even is. And how it Council of Europe operates or what it is about.

  6. The Real Hungaricum: Idiocy, Envy, Greed, Laziness, Racism, Sheep-ism…etc.etc.

  7. White acacia is certainly not a Hungaricum. Just listen to this Russian romance

  8. My mother left Hungary when she was nine and never was able to return. I remember her musing about her love of seeing Záhony with its beautiful acácfa lining the streets. It moved me to plant one in my yard in New Jersey, and it was a joy to see its beautiful flowers and the bees buzzing around.

  9. Petofi – Shame on you. It seems you prefer the post-1947 – 1989 Hungary to the one envisioned by the ’56-ers and manifested in 1990. While you play the role of intellectual snob, the rest of the Hungarians are doing what they can to recover from the Communist – and recent Socialist years. I suggest you move to your world of the good life in Russia. Talpra Magyar!

  10. The Hungarian climate seems to be perfect for the American acacia. It will kill the indigenous vegetation if it is not controlled. In my garden it is a vigorous weed.

  11. “Rev.” A W Kovacs,

    You wrote: “… the rest of the Hungarians are doing what they can to recover from the Communist – and recent Socialist years”

    No, they are not. The ones who voted for Fidesz long to return to Socialism, where there was one-party rule, the state owned or controlled almost everything, dissent was punished both legally and economically, business success was based on loyalty and the ability to lie and deceive, not on actual business acumen, and leaders served for life. Those who voted for Jobbik, of course, want to return to a similar set of circumstances, but with a different set of elites and the creation of a slave class (Roma and non-Christians).

    If you really believe what you wrote, you should spend some time researching the reality of the situation. If you don’t believe it, but wrote it as some sort of propaganda, then it wasn’t very effective.

  12. Even tough the honey is delicious acacias/robinias/black locusts really are a weed!

    A neighbouring piece of land stood empty for about 10 years – after that time it was a real jungle and all the neighbours were complaining. Nowadays (at least in principle) every landowner here is required to care for its land, but there still are many empty lots developing into jungles again. The village just has neither the manpower nor the money to clean up …

  13. @ Rev. Kovacs

    The country envisioned by 56-ers had nothing to do with Hungary, that’s why they all left, as did we to Canada. By the way, you’re right: I had nothing against the Communists in 1956 when I was 7 years old. I had my little uniform and a friendly little girl in our building who taught me how to play doctor. Everything was peachy. But my parents dragged me away to Canada–when I really wanted to go to Australia where the kangaroos where. Sad to say, I grew up in the egalitarian Canadian system of education which did nothing to prepare me for the madness
    of Hungary in 2009, when my wife and I returned. I now find myself in a time warp from a bygone time, in a society of amoral, lazy, greedy members following the claptrap of uber nationalism of a leader who, secretly, mocks all his fellow countrymen.

    Kafka is turning in his grave: “I wrote this stuff–I never expected anyone to create it!”

  14. Rev. A W Kovacs
    May 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm Quote
    Petofi – Shame on you. I [……….] I suggest you move to your world of the good life in Russia. Talpra Magyar!

    He does no have to. If you let Orban do his job long enough the Russians will be in Hungary sooner then you think. Keep supporting Orban Reverend, that will show those Russians…

  15. Penny Oswalt
    May 5, 2014 at 12:46 am Quote
    i think it is a beautiful plant, just like legalism legislation forcing itself on the “beauty” of life!


    Penny Oswalt, I mean no offence, but did you grasp the article or did you do a little research about the plant we we are talking about?
    What we are talking about her is a plant that if not under con trill will suffocate and kill all vegetations around it. What the EU is asking form the Hungarian government (too) is to provide a plan how will they control the plant. They are willing to provide money for that!
    They also ask the Hungarian government to outline how will they protect the native vegetation from the plants that classified as weeds, so they can provide money to help wit that. NOONE is asking Orban and You to kill off the acacia, but they are asking to make sure that Hungary will still have paprika, willow trees, cherry trees, vines, strawberries, etc. You can oil the weed on your own from your own money, or draft a plan and use the money from the EU. It is that simple (for most).

    Raspberry plants are lovely and useful, but if it is not controlled they will take over your garden, and same with rhubarb. I had a neighbour wants who let her raspberry bush out of control, you should of seen his garden versus mine where I kept cutting back the bush. I had fantastic raspberries and lovely vegetables with pretty looking flowers. He had raspberry bushes all over his yard with not so much raspberry.

  16. I have to turn off auto correct.. My previous post should read:
    the plant we are talking about?
    What we are talking about here is a plant that if not under control will suffocate and kill all vegetations around it.

  17. The thing about invasive species that is hard for people to grasp is that when you take an organism out of the eco-system it evolved in, it can often find itself with few predators or natural enemies. In its own environment, its spread is naturally checked by disease and things that eat it. But when placed elsewhere, it can spread unchecked and then competes for resources used by native flora or fauna, often overpowering them. It can be true of animals (e.g. cane toads in Australia, Brown Snakes in Guan), or of plants (e.g. ragwort or Japanese knot-weed in the UK). Penny Oswald’s reaction is sadly only too common and as so often, people need educating was to the real nature of the problem.

  18. “Robinia pseudoacacia” is what its Latin name implies: a “false” acacia (although belonging to the same family of bean plants). It likes sandy soil, and new plants sprout off its roots. In one of my brothers’ garden there are a few, and he has to cut off the young shoots every year to keep them under control because – like common privet (ligustrum vulgare) – they can quickly cover a huge area and are difficulte to weed out. If you cut off the stem, its roots will still continue to produce new shoots.

    Apart from being a honey supplier, especially in France, its timber is a preferred fence post material (when hammered in upside down!) or outdoor hand rail as it doesn’t rot even after 100 years because of its high flavonoids content. Because of its toughness it has been used by cartwrights to make wheels. And finally, you can deep-fry the blossoms and eat them or dry them and use them as tea…

  19. “i think it is a beautiful plant, just like legalism legislation forcing itself on the “beauty” of life!”

    Why do biologists care about the Acacia?

    Invasive species meet several biological criteria.

    1) They must be introduced to an ecosystem where they have no ecological history.
    2) High reproductive rates.
    3) High dispersal rates so they can quickly occupy new areas.
    4) Few predators/herbivores or parasites. So, a major control on population growth is missing.

    The first four criteria above are met by many species. The last criteria below MUST be met for a species to be considered invasive. Otherwise, it is simply an exotic.

    5) Invasives have a negative impact on native plant and animal populations.

    The acacia in Hungary exerts its negative impacts in several ways.

    1) Displacement of native plants and space holding.
    Acacia quickly establish dense clones by root propagation. Once these clones are established very few native species are able to grow and reproduce in their understory. Space occupied by acacia is space not occupied by native oaks, maples, etc. and the diverse understory of grasses, ferns, wildflowers, and shrubs that the native forests support.

    2) Alteration sof soil chemistry.
    The Black Locust is a legume that fixes nitrogen (takes nitrogen from the air and converts it to a form plants can use). Its presence increases the level of nitrogen based nutrients in the soil. This may seem like a positive service. However, many native plants require soils that are poor in nitrogen. Even if acacia are removed, the soils may no longer support the native vegetation that used to inhabit the site. Many Hungarian grasslands are nitrogen poor and are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the Carpathian region.

    3) Indirect impacts.
    Since acacia displace native forests, there is less acreage in native forests and other plant communities in Hungary. This not only results in a direct decline of these native plant species, but also the species of animals that rely on the native plant communities. For instance, Butterflies need specific host species of plants – fewer of these plants, fewer native butterflies. Birds nest in particular types of trees and shrubs. Acacia are not suitable for the majority of Hungarian birds species.

    Acacia are now the most abundant tree species in Hungary. These means Hungary has lost vast areas of native forests, grasslands, and scrublands to this invasive species.

    Hungarians are very proud of their native biodiversity. I was raised with stories of storks, hedgehogs, squirrels, beers, etc. It is a shame their is program to misinform the public about the impacts of the Acacia. I applaud the efforts of the Eu to deal with this aspect of the biodiversity crisis.

    Yes, the acacia is beautiful, but the true Hungaricum is the native biodiversity of Hungary.

  20. Excuse me being completely off topic, but has anybody noticed that Galamus has almost closed down? I gather they have finally decided to carry on but in a truncated form. What a shame! I understand how much knocked for six its editor, leading writers and the rest were after the new 2/3rd, but they are needed more than ever before now, if we are to have alternative sources of news and opinions in this god forsaken country of ours!

  21. I know from experience how difficult it is to get rid of some of these invasive plants in your garden – there’s this horrible thing from Japan (or China/Korea?, forgot its name) with its large leaves that somebod brought into our garden in Germany – and bamboo also is a problem (I wasn’t told about this by the people who sold me the bamboo …) but with enough “Roundup” (Glyphosat – now that the patents have run out you can get it really cheap, at least in Hungary …) put on the leaves directly you can get rid of everything …

    PS and OT:

    The “regular weeds” are also a problem, but with regular mowing at least the “lawn” is green and some flowers are really nice like the Gänseblümchen (daisy) …

  22. OT but of current interest –

    Russia vs Allies (US+EU) re UKRAINE — MY PREDICTION —


    A Nyugat (‘Allies’) and Russia via UN Security Council – or a la Yalta formula:

    To a referendum of the population resulting in Eastern and perhaps South UKRAINE going to Russian Federation’s area of influence and annexation…
    EU + NATO would get right to offer options to ALL the EAST EUROPEAN nations INCLUDING CENTRAL AND WESTERN UKRAINE incl Kiev for joining the EU and rights and options to ALL current East-Euope

    However the territories south of Russia Georgia, Kazakshstan, Azerbaijan, Amrenia etc will continue to remain in LIMBO – or perhaps be DVVIED UP for influence purposes

    All these agreements would be set into one ACCORD.
    Likely to be called the Geneva 2014 ACCORD…

    You will the the ABOVE happen.
    The positive in all the above is that the “menu” will be agreed in advance, most of the divvied up countries will want accept this as INEVITABLE and ALL would avoid a tragic and wasteful war…

    Russia may actually have the upper hand in the negotiations because it is physically closer to the territories, as these were former SOVIET territories.

    The west could consider itself lucky not to have to go to a senseless wasteful and potentially tragic, expensive and FUTILE war.

    The above would accept the INEVTABLE that Russia will retain much influence in the area and the in-fighting amont the two -three big powers would calm down and become manageable with Western prosperity getting a chance again…


  23. Andy as of a few minutes ago I have seen no public response from the US Department of State to German Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s push for a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, US secretary of state John Kerry, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Geneva. If Kerry listens to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff the US is will not respond to this request, but often the advice of our military leaders is ignored by President Obama and the State Department.

    We do know that Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the Ukraine crisis in a telephone call and stressed the importance of “effective international action” to reduce tension last night. The United States was not a party to those discussions, nor was the existing Ukrainian government.

    It appears to me that Merkel and the Germans are panicking because pipe lines from Russia to the west are exploding in the Ukraine as the civil war escalates. There is now open combat taking place and a good number of Ukrainian troops and Russian separatists are being killed including those in Odessa. In some places Ukrainian forces are giving up and in others they are aggressively attempting to regain control over public buildings. If the existing Ukrainian government does not want to participate in yet another round of talks in Geneva while ever more of its territory is being seized by Russian operatives it would not be surprising.

    Merkel needs to be careful regardless of her intentions because the Poles in particular remain unnerved by Russian/German bilateral negotiations after the Nazi–Soviet Pact of 1939 that led to the destruction of Poland. Northern Bukovina, Southern Bessarabia and Hertza remain part of Ukraine formally to this day and were once part of Poland. Within the first few days of the invasion of Poland, Germany began conducting massacres of Polish and Jewish civilians and POWs. These executions took place in over 30 towns and villages in the first month of German occupation alone. The Luftwaffe also took part by strafing fleeing civilian refugees on roads and carrying out an aerial bombing campaign. Germany may be thinking peace but some Poles right now may see it very differently.

  24. Minusio – you can eat the blossoms fresh, just off the tree, as we always did as kids. 🙂 oh, I love the scent of acacia & I can taste it in the honey, in Hungarian white wines etc hmmm!

  25. JGrant

    “has anybody noticed that Galamus has almost closed down? I gather they have finally decided to carry on but in a truncated form. What a shame! I understand how much knocked for six its editor, leading writers and the rest were after the new 2/3rd, but they are needed more than ever before now”

    Yes, I have seen it and am quite sad, too. They seem to have given up, they have lost the will to care and to keep going, because of the election results. Zsofia Mihancsik wrote a terribly upset piece – she is just emotionally unable to keep record of the daily developments of the government, it seems to me. We will miss them.

  26. Pure acacia honey from Hungary is the best honey in the world. Other acacia honeys from Germany or elsewhere come nowhere near. Hungarian acacia honey is as wonderful as Tokaji wine. Both are unique treasures to be protected.

  27. For a While.
    May 4, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    “Maybe it is a good idea not to write in topic areas where the author is not able to understand even the basics. Such as what the Council of Europe even is. And how it Council of Europe operates or what it is about.”

    I think it is easy to mix Council of Europe, European Council, and Council of European Union. I doubt many know the differences between them even in their native language.
    Anyhow I got the message.

  28. Csaba
    May 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm Quote
    Pure acacia honey from Hungary is the best honey in the world. Other acacia honeys from Germany or elsewhere come nowhere near. Hungarian acacia honey is as wonderful as Tokaji wine. Both are unique treasures to be protected.
    Ignorance is a blessing Csaba, isn’t it. So until you get your honey, let’s kill al the native Hungarian plants. How selfish immature, ignorant one cane be. By the way, if you let your acacia grow free, it will take all your vines from Tokaj. Long live acacia and ignorance.
    (Advise: Sometimes try to read other people’s comments, and the factual information they included. It would help you.)

  29. I been wantin mto write a spoof (in good will) about how the discussions go on as in the above last 10 reamarks
    here’s a stylized example to try to make yous smile:

    XY. Russa gonna gobble up E and S. Ukraine… Jets flying and bombing all over

    ZI. Its the tanks doin them in.

    Oli Phony: We gavie it to dem soviets better in “56. What dey vaitin for?

    Prime Rose: Gimme a break. The other day I bought Hungarian akác honey of 9.99 for 31 1/2 ounces and it was a far better deal than the 32 1/2 oz offred by exim from MY.

    HugariCo. Our general honey is better for your healt all over.l

    PSI. Eva, lets not go overboard on this, its just an argument among freinds.

    E Balgh. I checked in the Larousse and it says 99.9% of the stuff is according to norm.

    Minusi: The Bpest Variety was 33 1/3 % of the good variety and the opposition was estimated at 22%. So all together We have 83,6% voting for and 3% against.

    And so it goes…. 🙂

  30. @Istvan:

    As a German I also find it very strange that some German politicians from the Social Democrats snuggle up to Putin – ex-chancellor Schröder of course is a special case, he gets money from the Russian oil company.

    Btw there’s a guest comment in the NYT from someone at the conservative paper Die WELT who feels the same:

    But this seems to be a general European problem right now:

    The extreme left and the extreme right both love Putin – because they hate the USA and the EU?
    At least that’s my explanation …

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