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Vanilla Bean Orchid – Vanilla planifolia

 

Feature & Fact

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron, and comes from the Vanilla Bean Orchid.

These attractive climbing plants grow to approximately 2-3 metres in length and produce beautiful, yellow-green, fragrant flowers once the plant has matured, which may take approximately 3-4 years.  If the flowers are pollinated they may then develop a vanilla pod which can be picked, fermented and then cured.

Care

Originating from the tropics, these plants will do well in a warm, humid, well-lit area, but not in direct sunlight.  When grown in a pot they may grow into a vine of approximately 2-3 metres in length and require strong support.

As with most orchids, they should be planted in a free-draining medium such as bark or orchid mix.

Water the plant regularly, allowing the top 2-3 inches of growing medium to dry out before the next watering.  For the best results, plants may be fertilised with a diluted orchid fertiliser every 2 weeks.

Vanilla orchids are susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs, so should be inspected for these and treated accordingly.  Because of the plant’s high moisture needs it is also susceptible to root rot.  It is a good idea to repot the plant annually and examine its roots to help reduce the risk of root rot. Growing vanilla orchids is a fun and challenging hobby.

 

Pollination

In their native habitat of Mexico and Central America, these plants are naturally pollinated by hummingbirds and orchid bees.  Because these natural pollinators do not exist in Australia, Vanilla Bean Orchids must be hand-pollinated in order to have a chance of developing their seed pods.

Vanilla Bean Orchids are hermaphroditic, meaning that you do not need to cross-pollinate from one plant to another, instead the same flower can be used to pollinate itself.  Flowers only last a day, sometimes less than that, and must be hand-pollinated within 12 hours of opening.  Using a small splinter of wood or a grass stem, gently lift the membrane separating the anther from the stigma and then use a thumb to press the anther onto the stigma, thus transferring the pollen and causing pollination to occur.

A short while after pollination the flower will close and may begin to produce a pod a few days later.  The pods will take between 20-40 weeks from pollination to ripen for harvesting.


 

Image Credit: Wikipedia

 

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