Orchid of the Week: Vanilla planifolia

Did you know that vanilla comes from the “fruit” of an orchid called Vanilla planifolia? This orchid plant with relatively Plain Jane blooms provides growers with seed pods that, when dried, make a delicious flavoring. The vanilla orchid is native to Africa, Asia, and the Americas (particularly Central America); major vanilla exporting countries include Madagascar, Mexico, and Tahiti.

Vanilla planifolia
Photo credit: amadeusvanillabeans.com

Many folks—especially those who cook or spend copious amounts of time watching the Food Network—know vanilla seed pods as vanilla beans:

Photo credit: butcher-packer.com

What I find particularly interesting about the vanilla orchid that its blooms open one at a time*. Not only that, but each bloom opens in the morning and closes later THAT DAY. If the bloom doesn’t get pollinated during those few hours, it won’t grow fruit. No wonder vanilla beans and vanilla extract are expensive; this stuff can’t be easy to grow or harvest!

So from this vine-like orchid plant:

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

We end up with this:

Photo credit: surlatable.com

Nature never ceases to amaze me!

*I know that this statement contradicts the first image in my post, which has two blooms open together. I’m sure this happens occasionally, or maybe the blooms are on two separate plants right next to each other.

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