Group : Vanilla
Covers these genera : Vanilla (Vl.)

General information for this group :
Vanilla is one of the few orchids that is a true vine. It also is one of the few orchids with actual economic importance, with Vanilla farms located in various tropical climates across the globe. The "vanilla bean" is actually the cured seed pod of the vanilla orchid, and is the true source of vanilla flavoring that we are all familiar with.

A number of different species are available, but planifolia is the one that is the most commonly grown. There are also a number of variegated cultivars that add a new dimension to the lovely leaves. Those with yellow variegation grow at the same rate as green plants, but those with white variegation are much slower-growing and dramatic in appearance.

Vanilla flowers last usually only a day, sometimes up to two at the most. They must be pollinated in a 2-hour window of the day they open, from about 9 am. to 11 am., if you wish to produce seed-pods.

Light :
Vanilla grows well under a variety of light levels, but mainly moderate to bright is the optimal level. The leaf colour should ideally be a medium-green for best growth and flowering.

Temperature :
Intermediate to warm temperatures are best. At cooler temperatures the leaves will be prone to fungal attacks and spotting. If you have no choice and only have cool temps available during part of the year, then it is advisable to monitor watering closely and try reducing it, but never mist the leaves under these conditions.

Media :
An airy, spongy mix is best. The incorporation of some chopped sphagnum strands into a coarse bark mix seems to work best for everyone. Vanilla vines produce roots at every leaf-node, making it easy to reproduce from cuttings. If your plant goes yellow at the base, indicating a die-back of the stem, then you can do either of two things :

  1. Unpot the plant and remove the dead part. Then re-orient the live stem into the pot to stimulate additional root development.
  2. Lay the stem onto a bed of damp sphagnum to stimulate new root development. Once those have appeared you can pot up the rooted cutting into a regular pot as before.

Water :
Rainwater and dehumidifier water are good choices to keep the vanilla plants happy. NEVER use bottled water, well-water or softened water on your plants. Good humidity is appreciated and results in foliage that looks more lush, but avoid misting of the leaves.

Fertilizing :
A properly balanced orchid fertilizer is optimal for these plants (a 3:1:3 or 4:1:4 ratio). Apply during the active growing season (Feb to Oct), at 1/4 to 1/2 strength. If brown tips appear on the leaves, then reduce your fertilization to address this. Ensure that you flush your pots with plain water at least every 4th watering, to remove any excess minerals in the pot.

Blooming :
Vanilla vines must be at least 6 to 8 feet in length before they will bloom for the first time. Flowers are produced sequentially in clusters emerging from the leaf nodes. They are not the easiest plants to bloom in a temperate climate, since light levels are usually too low for too much of the year. Brighter light gives you a much better chance of producing blooms. It is advisable to only grow this plant if you enjoy the lush foliage, and then if blooming ensues it is a wonderful bonus !


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