Vanilla planifolia, commonly known as the Vanilla Orchid is blooming right now in the northern most tropical room in the Tucker greenhouse. This orchid occurs worldwide in tropical regions from the Americas, to tropical Asia. This orchid is an epiphyte and likes to grow and climb up other plants and trees. It’s growing up a trellis in the greenhouse and has already grown up about 4-5 meters. If you’d like to see these flowers, look up, as they are at the very top of the plant!
It is from this vining member of the Orchidaceae family that we get vanilla beans (botanically known as ‘dehiscent capsule fruits’) used for commercial vanilla flavoring. Once the orchid is pollinated, the ‘bean’ ripens in 8 to 9 months after flowering. It eventually turns black, and becomes very fragrant. This is when the beans are harvested and dried.
Check out this very cool video produced by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on growing Fair Trade vanilla in Uganda, (it also shows how people hand pollinate Vanilla Orchids).