Although vanilla beans are grown in several locations today, until the 1800’s Mexico maintained a monopoly on vanilla beans in spite of the fact that explorers constantly uprooted the orchid vines to replant in their native lands. Botanists finally came to realize that the melipone bees, native only to Mexico, were pollinating the flowers. Eventually, a man on the island of Reunion discovered that the pointed stick of a bamboo shoot could be used to hand-pollinate the flowers. Once this was discovered, the French planted vanilla on many of the tropical islands they ruled. To this day, former French colonies within about 25 degrees of the equator (which enjoy warm, tropical climates) produce about 80% of the world’s vanilla.