, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 1-10
Date: 20 Feb 2009

Unraveling the origin of Coffea arabica ‘Bourbon pointu’ from La Réunion: a historical and scientific perspective

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Abstract

Coffee is one of the main products on the international markets, in association with oil, corn, sugar, and paper pulp. The history of coffee-tree cultivation is incompletely documented, both regarding its domestication in Africa, and its assisted dispersal throughout the world. This review focuses on the coffee mutant, Coffea arabica ‘Laurina’ (Chevalier A in Encyclopedie Biologique. Vol 28, 1947), also named ‘Bourbon pointu’. This plant is generally acknowledged to have been selected in the island of ‘Bourbon’ (La Réunion) from a field at the beginning of the 19th century. Compared with the common ‘Bourbon’ variety, ‘Bourbon pointu’ trees are dwarf, with a characteristic Christmas-tree shape and the beans have an excellent cup quality. Although cited many times in literature, the origin of this variety is ambiguous and is largely discussed even today with increasing confusion, particularly in books and local newsletters. This article provides a thorough historical and bibliographical review of coffee cultivation in La Réunion, which leads to an understanding of the bottleneck responsible for the low genetic diversity of the ‘Bourbon’-type modern varieties. Complemented by a review of the scientific studies conducted on this subject, confirmation of the veracity of the various historical accounts becomes possible, and appropriate conclusions on the origin of the ‘Bourbon pointu’ are derived. Although historical texts provide important information and represent priceless resources that give direction to scientific research, it is clear that this same research makes it possible, in turn, to clarify and to interpret historical texts.