Brazil Nuts

Pollination ~ the Brazil nut tree, the orchid & the orchid bees

Brazil Nut Flower and bee

Brazil nut flowers are big, tough, complexly coiled yellow flowers with a heavy hood.

They can only be pollinated by large-bodied bees that are strong enough to pry open the flower.

These Euglossine, or orchid bees, have large, long, strong tongues and they like to live in wild undisturbed forests, that contain orchids.


Brazil Nut Flower and bee

The male “orchid bee” goes to an orchid flower for perfume to attract a female, and he cannot attract a female without this scent!

The male bee pollinates the orchid and the female bee pollinates the brazil nut flower.

Brazil nut trees produce fruit almost exclusively in pristine forests, as disturbed forests lack the large-body bees of the genera Centris, Eulaema, and Xylocopa [also known as Carpenter bees] which are the only ones capable of pollinating the tree's flowers. Brazil nuts have been harvested from plantations but production is low and it is currently not economically viable. These plantations do not have the bees and also do not have the orchids which prefer undisturbed primary rainforest.

The Brazil nut tree's yellow flowers contain very sweet nectar and can only be pollinated by an insect strong enough to lift the coiled hood on the flower and with a tongue long enough to negotiate the complex coiled flower.

Thus, the Brazil nut's reproduction actually depends on the presence of the orchid Coryanthes vasquezii, which does not grow on the Brazil nut tree itself. The orchids produce a scent that attracts small male long-tongued orchid bees (Euglossa spp), as the male bees need that scent to attract females. The large female long-tongued orchid bee pollinates the Brazil nut tree. Without the orchid, the bees do not mate, and therefore the lack of bees means the fruit does not get pollinated.

orchid and bee Brazil Nut Flower and bee orchid and bee
Male Eulaema mocsaryi part of the tribe: Euglossini collecting nectar and scent to attract females Female Eulaema mocsaryi with laden pollen baskets approaching flower of Brazil nut tree Orchids and bees have a symbiotic relationship - they both need each other!