5. Pollination

As an edible nut producing species the Brazil nut tree is inextricably linked to the pristine rainforest in which they can found.  One demonstration of this is the manner in which the flowers of the tree have evolved in conjunction with other insect and mammal species that are harboured in the rainforest.

Brazil nut trees flower during the dry season through to the wet season, with peak flowering occurring in October, November and December (Mori, 1992).  During this period the tree produces large flowers that bloom and fall to the forest floor in a daily cycle.  This daily bloom provides a short window of opportunity for the flowers to be pollinated (Mori & Prance, 1990).

The flowers can only be pollinated by large-bodied bees that are strong enough to pry open the flower hood and feast on the nectar within.  These bees are known as Euglossine or orchid bees, and are characterised by their large tongues and main habitat of undisturbed forest (Mori & Prance, 1990).

These bees do not lend themselves to manipulation by humans, which may explain why fruit producing Brazil nut trees have not been successful grown in plantations or without the natural forest surrounding them (Soldan, 2003; Mori 1992).  Another theory to explain why the trees are difficult to pollinate out with the natural forest is that the bees cannot reproduce without the rainforest around them.  It is thought that the bees derive particular chemicals from certain forest dwelling orchids.  These chemicals give a special color to the male bees’ wings; this in turn makes him more attractive to the female bees and allows him to reproduce.

After the bees have pollinated the flowers, it can take up to and beyond 12 months for the fruits to develop (Ortiz, 2002; Wadt, et al., 2005).  The fruit that is produced is an extremely hard spherical pod encasing between 10 and 25 large seeds or edible Brazil nuts (Haugaasen & Haugassen, 2010).  As the rainy season progresses the mature seed pods (called “cocos” by the collectors), fall all the way from the tree canopy to the forest floor.  Larger seed pods can weigh up to 2.5 kilos (Mori & Prance, 1990), so as a safety measure the nut collectors avoid the collection areas until the majority of the “cocos” are on the ground.

In the height of the rainy season when the most of the “cocos” have fallen, the collection season begins in Pando, Beni and Acre.

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