However, they are almost impossible to grow because their pollination requirements are very specific. Only certain native bees can get into flowers and cross-pollinate to produce nuts, and these bees are virtually impossible to domesticate. Brazil nuts, the traditional Christmas snack, are threatened by overharvesting, researchers say. The Brazil nut tree, scientifically known as Bertholletia excelsa, blooms in lowland forests in the Amazon.
Conservationists say at least some of the brown nuts need to be left behind to turn into trees and save stocking fillings. Because Brazil chestnut trees can live 500 years or more, their decline will not affect harvests any time soon. But in the 1870s, settlers in Southeast Asia discovered that they could grow Brazilian rubber trees free of the parasites that prevailed in South America.
Brazil nutsfirst arrived in the United States in the early 19th century, and just like in Europe, it took some time before they achieved the kind of popularity that would lead them to those ubiquitous cans of mixed nuts found on the grocery store shelf.
Alone among the foods of the world economy, these nuts come almost exclusively from remote natural forests rather than from more convenient plantations. Each pod contains 10 to 25 Brazil nuts, which are technically seeds, arranged inside a pod as sections inside an orange. The challenge in the future will be to maintain consumer demand so that collectors can better earn a living from sales of chestnuts, which will reduce their need to resort to other non-forestry operations, such as harvesting wood or agriculture. Merchants navigate waterways on ships loaded with food and manufactured goods, looking for barter for nuts.
One stands at the NMNH exhibition, just a few meters from Brazil nuts, waiting forever for refreshments. In parts of the Amazon rainforest where traditional people still live in the forest, walnuts are their main source of income, Kainer said. Unlike other commercially available nuts, Brazil nuts are grown exclusively from wild trees in the Amazon. Scientists measured 23 natural populations of Brazil chestnuts in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru and compared the results with a century of historical data.
In Brazil, these seeds are called “Pará chestnuts” or “Pará chestnuts”, after a state in northern Brazil where trees grow abundantly. In fact, they are more related to blueberries and persimmons than to walnuts or pecans.