Orchid of the Month
Young Vanilla planifolia vine
Drawing showing flowers
The Vanilla genus is one of the oldest orchid genera still surviving and is thought have arisen about 80 MYA. There are nearly 110 species of Vanilla orchids, all of which are monopodial vines preferring tropical and sub-tropical climates. The most recognized, and most industrially important, species is the Vanilla planifolia found in Central America and Mexico. Its seed pods are used to produce the majority of vanilla extract sold today.
The reason pure vanilla extract is so expensive is because the Vanilla planifolia flower only opens for one day. Workers must hand fertilize each flower as they open. After fertilization, it will take about 8 months for the seed pod to ripen into the dark, fragrant “bean” that is sold in stores. Both the bean pods and seeds inside are used to manufacture the vanilla extract. If you’re considering growing your own vanilla beans, make sure you have a large area set aside for your orchid as the vine needs to be about 10 feet tall before it starts producing flowers!