The Orchid Seedbank Project
PO Box 7042
Chandler, AZ 85246

Want to grow vanilla?

The question is, why would you want to? The genus Vanilla consists of approximately 70 species of tropical vines that are orchids. Of these, two or three are regularly used for commercial production of vanilla flavoring. The most common is Vanilla planifolia. Two other species, V. tahitensis and V. pompona are occasionally used for production of the flavoring.

There are problems associated with vanilla. First off, the plant is a vine- and a very large one. It may grow to a height of 50 or 80 feet in the wild, and specimens in greenhouses often twine around to a length in excess of 30 feet. Secondly, the flowers are ephemeral, lasting only one day. During this period of time, they must be pollinated by hand in order to produce a bean. The primary techniques are shown in the November, 1992 American Orchid Society Bulletin. There are some guidelines for culture in Withner's The Orchids: A Scientific Survey, in the section titled "Vanilla- The Orchid of Commerce."

Once the flowers have been pollinated, the beans slowly develop. After harvesting, they are killed, and either dried or soaked in alcohol. The entire process lasts about two years; commercial beans may be 5-6 years old by the time they are made available. In terms of price, vanilla flavoring is second only to saffron, due to the intensive extraction process. Although yes- it can be done at home, it is almost invariably easier and much less expensive just to buy it at the grocery store.

If this does not dissuade you, there are many growers that will sell you a cutting from a vanilla vine. Search the web for "Vanilla planifolia," and you may find any one of a number of growers who will do so. Just don't expect to produce beans anytime soon; 2-3 years at best would be most likely. Expect to pay $12-30 for a length of vine.

 

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The Orchid Seedbank Project
PO Box 7042
Chandler, AZ 85246