When the famous explorer Cortez first landed on Mexico’s Veracruz Beach and planted his flag this began Spain’s discovery of the New World, and of all of his incredible new discoveries a few really captivated his imagination… coffee, cocoa, and a unique bean-like fruit that only grew in Mexico: vanilla.
When the Spanish explorer first met Emperor Moctezuma, during a religious ceremony, Cortez was offered a very exotic, special and original drink, which was named “”Xocohotl””. The drink was basically Chocolate and Vanilla. It so pleased Cortez that he inquired as to its special original flavor and fragrance; he was told it was Vanilla (Little Sheath) which describes the shape of the Vanilla pod. Cortez was so impressed that he returned to Spain with a supply of Vanilla beans to add this special flavor and fragrance to the palate of the Spanish King.commodity.Each of these treasures Cortez would take back like trophies of gold to Spain. During that period of time, because of the rarity and extraordinary cost in shipping, it soon became the exclusive beverage of all Aristocrats and Royalty in Europe.
During the next 300 years, Mexican Vanilla was transplanted to various tropical regions throughout the world, without success.
Vanilla, a species of a climbing Orchid, grew beautiful foliage and flowers in each of these regions, but never produced any Vanilla pods. A mystery to the world until 1836, a Frenchman observing very closely the original Vanilla plant, in Mexico, discovered the reason. Each of the orchid blooms was visited by the small “”Melipona”” bee. This specialized little creature provided the pollination which produced the fruit! Only in Mexico is the Melipona Bee found.
That was our story.. a feature on the remarkable relationship between the Melipona Bee – a tiny stingless bee – and the Vanilla flower for our Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution Series. The challenge we faced however, was that the yellow vanilla flower which has a secret compartment that only the Melipona Bee knows how to open only blooms a single day out of the entire year and grows in a region that we had no clue how to get to.
So we boarded a plan to Veracruz, Mexico to capture the story. We would be flying blind on this one.
Arriving in Veracruz I rented a car, hired a translator, and headed for the growing region. On the way we stopped at the very beach where Cortez landed his ships from Spain.
The most rich and authentic vanilla grows in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, near the Gulf of Mexico. My strategy for the filming was to head to the region where it is widely grown and in the morning visit a local market in the town square. I hoped that there I would discover a vanilla grower and could then talk my way onto his farm to film.
Well, the plan worked. The farmer who welcomed us onto his ranch looked like “Juan Valdez” of the Columbian Coffee commercial fame with his giant mustache and huge grin. But better yet, to our amazement, this would be the one day most of the vanilla flowers would bloom. And the Melipona Bee was spotted everywhere doing what no other creature on earth could do – unlocking the entrance to the stem of the flower and pollinating it so in the coming season it would bear fruit… a trick, by the way, that took Cortez’s men another 300 years to figure out!
So here is an amazing design. A perfect symbiotic relationship between an orchid that producing an amazing food and a tiny bee. Without the bee there would be no vanilla. An amazing story of God’s design! So, next time you enjoy a little vanilla ice cream thank the tiny Melipona Bee, and thank God who designed it all to work perfectly.
This story is one of many on the films INCREDIBLE CREATURES THAT DEFY EVOLUTION III