Growing Vanilla Plants (Vanilla planifolia Orchid)
Vanilla Planifolia is the official name for Vanilla, the plant which produces the distinctive brown pods which yield Vanillin, the subtle vanilla flavouring that has been used in cooking and flavouring for centuries.
The Vanilla plant is actually a species of Orchid-one of only 100 or so climbing orchids. It has fleshy green foliage which is evergreen, and flowers which bloom for one day only before producing the “fruit”-the seed pods which contain the well known vanilla flavouring.
Additional Vanilla Plants growing information
Vanilla is native to Mexico and Central America. It likes tropical, humid conditions, and is a very easy plant to grow. It grows best in a warm climate, with temperatures above 10 degrees celsius being ideal, and it won’t tolerate cold, damp or frosty conditions.
Vanilla Plant pollination
When it comes to reproducing and fruiting, the Vanilla is a picky customer. In its natural habitat in the Tropics it has a symbiotic relationship with a certain type of bee, the Melipona Bee-this is the Vanilla’s only natural pollinator. For this reason the Vanilla plant was only able to reproduce in its natural habitat for many years. Nowadays hand pollination techniques are used in cultivated Vanilla to encourage fruiting. This is quite an art and deserves some reading.
To produce fruit your Vanilla should be distressed by allowing it to dry out completely for 6-8 weeks and keeping it cooler than usual-these harsher conditions will help to initiate flowering and help your Vanilla to produce fruit.
The Vanilla flowers only appear for one day-although the plant will produce many flowers, each will only open for one single day. Luckily, each flower may choose a different day to do this so you will have plenty of opportunity to pollinate Vanilla flowers.
The pods must be left to mature on the vine for three to six months, until they turn yellow and dry at the ends, after which they are ready to harvest and must be dried out before use.
As the Vanilla plant is a tree climber, you can train it up a trellis or other support- it may need a little help to begin with but it will soon climb by itself. The soil should be light and well drained, and you will find that even without much nutrient the Vanilla will grow happily.
Here are a few tips to keep your Vanilla vibrant:
Keep the vine well weeded so that it does not have to compete for water and nutrients.
Prune it occasionally to keep it free from dead or dying leaves and shoots, and to keep it going where you want it to.
Sprinkle leaf mulch at the base of the vine to help with drainage and add a bit of natural fertiliser.
It is almost impossible to grow your own Vanilla plant from seed; the best possible way is to buy a young plant or at the very least a cutting that you can grow on. Once you have an established Vanilla plant, you will find it a very rewarding, easy and attractive plant to grow.