Cauliflory Inflorescence

January 16, 2019

Cacao trees fall into a special category of flowering plant: cauliflory. While most plants produce their blooms on new growth from the main stem or trunk (conventional inflorescence, or positioning), cacao's flowers and fruits grow directly from their woody trunks. Botanically, that means these plants can hold very large pods that might otherwise weigh down stems and branches. The seeds of cauliflory species are accessible to animals that cannot climb or fly, increasing the likelihood of dispersion and propagation far beneath the tropical canopy. Squat cauliflory plants produce a low-hanging feast of large, easily harvestable pods. While cacao has one of the more striking habits among this group because of its hefty, bumpy, colorful fruit, it is not the only intriguing specimen in the rain forest.

 

Pierre Buc'hoz showcased several of these fecund trunks in his Histoire universelle du règne végétal, ou nouveau dictionnaire physique et economique de toutes les plantes qui croissent sur la surface du globe. (The Global History of the Plant Kingdom, or New Scientific and Economic* Dictionary of All the Plants That Grow on the Surface of the Earth) Paris: Brunet,1775-1778. This compendium overlooks cacao, which may say something about when Buc'hoz studied coffee, tea, and chocolate, or limited access to the cacotier, or cacao tree. Buc'hoz based his first image of the tree not on nature, but on Maria Sybilla Merian's early-century print. It became the frontispiece of the section on chocolate in his 1783 Le Jardin d'Eden, le paradis terrestre renouvellé dans le Jardin de la Reine à Trianon ou collection des plantes plus rares, qui se trouvent dans le deux Hémisphères (The Garden of Eden, Earthly Paradise Restored in the Garden of the Queen at the Trianon, or Collection of the Rarest Plants to be Found in the Two Hemispheres). His formal study of the hot beverage plants only appeared between 1785 and 1788.

 

 Cynometra Cauliflora (Nam Nam Fruit), Plate 4

Native to Malaysia and named there for the fruit's resemblance to a toad

 

Averrhoa Blimbi [sic] (Cucumber Tree), Plate 6

Known also as Bilimbi or Pickle Tree and used to make pickles, relishes, and chutneys

 

 Artocarpus Integrifolia (Jack Fruit), Plate 9

Prized for sweet nutritious flesh, the massive fruit can reach 100lbs. and emits a pungent odor

 

 Papaya, Plate 2

Or pawpaw, native to the American Tropics, produces a large, amber 'berry'

 

 Le Cacaotier (Cacao Tree), Le Jardin d'Eden, Plate 65

Named Theobroma Cacao, food of the gods, by Carolus Linnaeus (1753), prized for its beans

 

*Buc'hoz uses the term economy in its eighteenth-century sense, when it was rooted in moral philosophy. Etymologically derived from capable management of the household (οἶκος, home, & νόμος, law), economics also applied in the Enlightenment to the material prosperity of the social family--the state--and even, as in this case, kindred groups such as the plant kingdom. In the case of Buc'hoz's botanical economy, the word refers specifically to the knowledge required to preserve and cultivate nature well. Insofar as this knowledge complements the empirical details of a plant's biology with a morally guided sense of purpose, we could call his text the new "natural and moral dictionary."

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