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12-Year-Old Solves Great Botanical Mystery

A vanilla shake is one of life’s simple pleasures, especially on a hot summer’s day. Did you know that vanilla traces its origin all the way back to a twelve-year-old slave boy living on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean? Vanilla is now the most popular spice in the world, but in 1841 the world produced fewer than two thousand vanilla beans, all in Mexico.

Up until the mid-19th century, vanilla orchids were pollinated exclusively by a particular genus of bee in Mexico. Over the years, as demand rose, attempts were made to industrialize the pollination process, to no avail. Vanilla was stubborn. All of this changed thanks to the ingenuity of that 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius on a small island, 500 miles east of Madagascar. He was uneducated, yet he managed to solve one of the great botanical mysteries of the nineteenth century.

In 1822 a plantation owner on the island of Reunion was granted some vanilla plants from the French government. Only one of them survived, and nearly two decades later it still hadn't fruited. Without that bee pollinator, no one outside Mexico could get their plants to flower--that is, until Edmond worked his magic.

The owner was walking his plantation with Edmond in 1841 when he discovered, much to his surprise, that his vanilla vine had produced two beans! That’s when Edmond revealed, very matter-of-factly, that he had pollinated them by hand. The disbelieving plantation owner asked for a demonstration, so Edmond gently pinched the pollen-bearing anther and the pollen-receiving stigma between his thumb and index finger.

By 1858 Reunion was exporting two tons of vanilla. By 1867, it was up to twenty tons. And by 1898, it was two hundred tons. And it all traces back to a twelve-year-old boy named Edmond who hand pollinated a single vanilla vine. From that single vine, a billion-dollar industry was created.

Possible Preaching Angles: Hope; Insignificance; Persistence; Patience; Small things; – The least likely person can be used by God to bring about great changes if they use their gifts and opportunities regardless of their circumstances.

Source: Mark Batterson, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God (Multnomah, 2017), p. 115-116; Lior Lev Seercarz; “How Vanilla Became the World’s Favorite Flavor,” Saveur.com (10-3-16)

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