Edmond Albius

Edmond Albius was a former slave and horticulturist whose method for pollinating vanilla plants led to a boom in the industry in 19th century Europe and Asia. He was a born a slave in 1829 in St. Suzanne, on Réunion, a small island off the coast of Madagascar. His mother died during childbirth. He did not receive any formal schooling and was shipped off to another plantation to work for the French botanist Ferréol Bellier-Beaumont. He first learned how to pollinate watermelon plants and later applied this knowledge to vanilla. Vanilla orchid was originally thought to have one pollinator, the Melipona bee, which was native to Mexico. While the vanilla orchid was shipped all over, farmers had no luck being able to get the vanilla vine to produce beans. It was Edmond who, at 12, took and perfected a method of hand pollination that saw the vanilla vine produce beans within a short amount of time. He was able to achieve this by studying the anatomy of the plant, identifying the rostellum, and discovered that gentle manipulation would allow fertilization.

Edmond’s success was noted as he traveled to multiple plantations to teach slaves and planters this technique. This marked a spike in the vanilla industry and allowed it to be produced at an industrial scale. France eventually eclipsed Mexico in vanilla production due his technique, and it helped make Réunion one of top vanilla producers globally. Bellier-Beaumont granted Edmonds his freedom and his last name Albius. Beaumont also wrote a petition for Edmonds to receive cash compensation for his contributions, however, no response was ever tendered. Subsequently he did not receive any monetary or verbal kudos. He would go to another rough part of Réunion to do odd jobs as a laborer and in a kitchen, but he was falsely imprisoned for five years with hard labor for a robbery he took no part in. Beaumont did numerous appeals and was able to get him released, and he subsequently returned to Beaumont’s plantation. He married and would later pass away at the age of 51.


  1. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/edmond-albius-1829-1880/
  2. https://www.linnean.org/news/2019/10/16/edmond-albius 
  3. https://thesherman.org/2022/02/24/edmond-albius-and-the-story-of-vanilla/
  4. https://www.feastafrique.com/hall-of-fame/edmond-albius
  5. https://afrolegends.com/2013/11/14/edmond-albius-the-slave-who-launched-the-vanilla-industry/