Epidendrum rubrum Lam.
Myrobroma fragrans Salisb.
Notylia planifolia (Jacks. ex Andrews) Conz.
Notylia sativa (Schiede) Conz.
Notylia sylvestris (Schiede) Conz.
Vanilla aromatica Willd.
Vanilla bampsiana Geerinck
Vanilla duckei Huber
Vanilla fragrans Ames
Vanilla rubra (Lam.) Urb.
Vanilla sativa Schiede
Vanilla sylvestris Schiede
Vanilla viridiflora Blume
Common Name: Vanilla
Cultivated plant, flowering in Florida Southern College's greenhouses
Photograph by: Malcolm Manners
Vanilla is a succulent-stemmed, perennial climbing plant, producing a stem that can be 5 - 15 metres or more long. The plant grows into trees, supporting itself by means of aerial roots that are produced from the stem nodes. It is often epiphytic, or becomes epiphytic as the lower portion of the stem withers and dies.
Vanilla is one of the world's most important spices[
]. It is widely cultivated throughout the tropics, mainly on the islands of Madagascar, Reunion, Tahitii, Java and the Seychelles, for its edible seed pod, which is much used as a sweet, aromatic flavouring in ice cream and a wide range of sweet dishes[
Calcium oxalate crystals are present in the plant, which may cause dermatitis in vanilla workers[
S. America - Bolivia, Colombia; Central America - Costa Rica to Mexico; naturalized in many other areas of Tropical America.
An epiphytic plant, it grows wild in trees, producing aerial roots that penetrate fissures and cracks in the bark[
]. Usually found climbing on trees in warm, wet tropical low land forests at elevations from sea-level to 600 metres[
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Wild
The plant thrives in hot moist insular climates with frequent, but not excessive rain and requires two drier months to check vegetative growth and bring the vines into flower[
]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are in the range 21 - 30Â°c, but can tolerate 10 - 33Â°c[
]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall of 2,000 - 2,500mm, tolerating 1,500 - 3,000mm[
An epiphytic plant, growing in pockets of humus on tree branches[
]. It requires a position in semi-shade, well-protected from winds[
]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 4.3 - 8[
Plants produced from short cuttings, around 30cm in length, will take 3 - 5 years before they flower and start to produce fruit. If longer cuttings, around 90 - 100cm in length, are used, then fruiting can commence after only 1 - 2 years[
Under favourable conditions a plant may grow 60 - 120cm per month[
The plant has an economic life of about 10 - 15 years before yields drop and it needs replacing[
The flowers usually need to be hand pollinated, especially when being cultivated outside the plants natural range.
The fruits mature in 180 - 270 days from flowering[
]. They are harvested when still green and lacking their distinctive aroma, and are then put through a lengthy curing process during which time they turn brown and develop their aroma[
Yields are very variable - a good vanillery may yield about 2.5 - 4 t/ha per year of fresh fruit, which gives 500 - 800 kg/ha of cured beans[
The flowers are pollinated by a specific species of moth in the night time. In areas where the moth is absent, hand pollination is necessary[
Seedpod - cooked. Used as a flavouring in a wide range of foods such as ice creams, confectionery, baked goods, puddings etc[
]. The seedpods contain about 3.5% vanillin[
The pod can be placed in sugar and left for the flavour to diffuse into the sugar. This sugar is then used as a sweet flavouring in various dishes, especially cakes and desserts[
The fruit is a dark-brown, 3-angled capsule 15 - 28cm long containing many small seeds[
Traditionally, the seedpods are used as an aphrodisiac, carminative, emmenagogue and stimulant[
].They are said to reduce or cure fevers, spasms and caries[
Vanilla extracts (especially tinctures according to pharmacopoeias) are used in pharmaceutical preparations such as syrups, primarily as a flavouring agent[
The seedpod is used in perfumes and soaps[
Seed - surface sow, preferably as soon as it is ripe, and do not allow the compost to dry out. The seed of this species is extremely simple, it has a minute embryo surrounded by a single layer of protective cells. It contains very little food reserves and depends upon a symbiotic relationship with a species of fungus. The fungal hyphae invade the seed and enter the cells of the embryo. The orchid soon begins to digest the fungal tissue and this acts as a food supply for the plant until it is able to obtain nutrients from decaying material in the soil[
]. It is best to use some of the soil that is growing around established plants in order to introduce the fungus, or to sow the seed around a plant of the same species and allow the seedlings to grow on until they are large enough to move.
Cuttings, 90 - 120cm long, with at least three leaf nodes. Sit them in loose, friable soil, but do not bury deeply or they will rot[
]. New shoots develop after 30 - 40 days[
Cuttings 1.5 - 2 metres long can be taken at any time of the year, but are best towards the end of the dry season[
]. The cuttings are kept loosely coiled in a dry, shady place for 2 - 3 weeks before insertion in open compost[
]. New shoots develop after 30 - 40 days[