Not for children
It can be hard to understand what pollinates a passion fruit (Passiflora edulis, Passifloraceae) flower. Indeed crowds of European honeybees (Apis mellifera) from the Dokmai Garden bee hives are attracted to the flowers. However, they do not contribute to the pollination because they are too small. While still airborne they simply raise a leg to scratch the male anther to collect pollen for their larvae back home. So how do we get passion fruits in the Chiang Mai gardens? If you wait patiently you will eventually see a huge carpenter bee land on the flower platform. It will then systematically rotate around the platform while the upper part of the massive thorax scratches against the anthers and then the female stigmas – this is the pollination.
Although this is peak season for longan harvesting, longan trees (Dimocarpus longan, Sapindaceae) may also serve as a support for the passion fruit vines. This adds double crops to the same area, although the passion fruit is much more water demanding than the humble longan tree. At this time the orange New Guinea creeper (Mucuna bennettii, Fabaceae) flowers in the same longan tree.
To see honeybees gather around a passion fruit flower is like seeing toddlers taking place behind the steering wheel of a car. The passionfruit flower was not made for ‘children’. In both its homeland in South America and in Thailand where it has been introduced, the passion fruit flower is pollinated by huge carpenter bees. We invite photographers to come and take a picture, or maybe even make a video?
Text & Photo: Eric Danell