The Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis

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Cannonball Tree Flower Copyright Elise Pearlstine

This is a story of color, fragrance, pollen, structure, and bees. As usual, the first time I saw one I followed my nose to this amazing tree with spikes of brightly colored flowers. The tree at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is my favorite, it is 100 years old and looks to be dressed in flowers from the stalks that cascade down the trunk. I have seen younger trees where the blossoming stalks project right out of the trunk. A member of the Brazil nut family, it is native to the rainforests of South America.

With pink petals, pink and yellow stamens, and a diffusive fragrance, the tree attracts a variety of bees to the blossoms where they are given a meal of pollen in exchange for cross-pollinating the flowers. Flowers that are cross-pollinated yield more fruit that those that are bagged to keep the pollen within a single flower, if they set fruit at all. The flowers do not produce nectar but do produce fragrant droplets that volatilize on the surface of the flower.

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Cannonball Tree Flowers Copyright Elise Pearlstine

The hood of the flower is an extension of the pollen ring (where the fertile stamens are found) that extends outwards and curves around. This forms a chamber where pollinators enter to feed on the sterile pollen and at the same time pick up the fertile pollen on their fuzzy bodies. After watching honeybees working the flowers for a while, it became clear that larger bees such as bumblebees would probably be a better fit and more efficient at depositing pollen, which is what my research found.

Another wonderful story of pollinators and flowers!

One thought on “The Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis

  1. Brian

    the smell of the blossoms, smelled at fairchild of course, smelled like a combination of rose and lilac.

    Reply

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