Although we visited the Cerrado in the dry season, there were many shrubs and trees putting out new leaves and flowers, even in the absence of any trace of rainfall for the past 6 months. Extensive underground aquifers that fill during the rainy season are tapped by deep roots of most of these plants, ensuring that they can flower and produce seeds when their pollinators and seed dispersers are present.
One of these small shrub/trees was quite common, and was particularly noticeable because of its huge displays of large, white flowers.
If there were a single plant species whose absence would markedly affect insect, bird, mammal, even human populations in the Cerrado, the Pequi would be it.
Pollination is done mainly by bats at night, but the plant is also visited by nocturnal moths, wasps, and ants, all feeding on the nectar produced by the flowers. In the daytime, no nectar is produced, but bees and wasps visit the flowers to feed on pollen.
Hummingbirds may be found on the flowers at dusk and in early morning, cashing in on that last sweetened formula of nectar the flowers put out. Guira, White-lined, Palm, and Siaca Tanagers along with Curl-crested Jays also frequent the flowers at dusk as well:
But that’s not the only role that Pequi plays in the Cerrado. Well-pollinated flowers produce a bounty of nuts, eaten by animals and especially favored by indigenous people of the Cerrado.
The pulp surrounding the seeds has been described as aromatic, fruity, and cheesy, and can be eaten raw or used to flavor other dishes. The seeds (with spines removed) are roasted and eaten like peanuts, or crushed to extract their oil, so the whole fruit has great commercial value. Pequi trees are typically planted around villages for residents to harvest the tree’s bounty.