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Overview

Brief Summary

Vanilla planifolia (V. fragrans, in some classifications) is a species of vanilla orchid native to tropical evergreen forests of eastern Mexico and the Caribbean watersheds of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras (FNA 2011). It is a primary source of vanilla flavoring. Often referred to as “vanilla,” other common names are flat-leaved, Mexican, or Bourbon vanilla (GRIN 2011).

Like all members of its genus, V. planifolia is an herbaceous perennial vine with a long fleshy climbing stem and adventitious roots that can attach to trees or penetrate soil. Flowers are greenish-yellow, fragrant, and waxy, with a diameter of 5 cm (2 in). The plant has many dainty flowers, and several will open at a time, but each flower lasts only a day. In their native range, flowers are pollinated by small euglossine bees (Encyclopedia Britannica 1993, FNA 2011), but fewer than one percent of flowers are pollinated in the wild. To ensure fruit in cultivation, flowers must be pollinated manually, during the morning; and pollinators can pollinate about 1,000 flowers per day (Wikipedia 2011). If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day.

Fruit is produced only on mature plants, starting at two or three years old, which are generally over 3 m (10 ft) long. The fruits are 15–23 cm (6-9 in) long pods (often incorrectly called beans, but technically elongate, fleshy and later dehiscent capsules), filled with thousands of tiny globose seeds (0.3 mm diameter). Fruits mature after five to nine months. Yield varies from 30–150 capsules per plant. After harvest, the fresh vanilla pods have no aroma, but must be cured for four to five months—a process of drying and fermenting pods, which encourages secretion of vanillin in tiny crystals on the outside of the pod. Vanilla extract (vanillin) is obtained from this portion of the plant.

Vanilla was used to flavor xocoatl, a chocolate beverage of the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes drank it when he visited Montezuma’s court, and the Spaniards soon took vanilla to Europe, where it quickly became popular (Encyclopedia Brittanica 1993). Today, vanilla is used in numerous sweet foods and beverages, including chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods, as well as in cosmetics, perfume, and candles.

V. planifolia is cultivated in shaded areas in hot, wet, tropical climates. Global vanilla production in 2009 was 9.8 million tons from 73,480 cultivated hectares (FAOSTAT 2011). Although Madagascar and Mexico were historically the leading producers, Indonesia was the top producer in 2009, followed by Madagascar and China; Mexico was fourth. These four countries produced 88% of the world total. Smaller amounts are produced in Turkey, French Polynesia and Tonga in the Pacific, several African countries, and islands off Madagascar (Comoros and Reúnion). India formerly produced significant amounts, but diseases and pests have led to declining cultivation (Vanitha et al. 2011).

Vanilla has been cultivated and escaped or persisted in many tropical areas, including south Florida (including in Miami area and Everglades National Park (FNA 2011).

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Distribution

Distribution: Formerly cultivated in Puerto Rico for the commercial production of vanilla. Today, some of these plantations persist, with some populations naturalized in moist forested areas at middle elevations. Species native to Mexico, but widely cultivated in the tropics. Also on St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas.

Public Forests: El Yunque and Maricao.

  • Ackerman, J. D. 1992. The orchids of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
  • Ackerman, J. D. 1995. An orchid flora of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. Vol. 73: 1-203.

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Fla.; Mexico; West Indies (Trinidad); Central America; n South America.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Roots usually 1 per node, aerial portions 2–3 mm diam. Stems occasionally branched, leafy, thick, 5–10 mm diam., smooth. Leaves persistent; blade flat, oblong-elliptic to ovate, longer than internodes, 15–25 × 5–8 cm, fleshy-leathery, apex acute to acuminate. Inflorescences axillary, 15-flowered racemes, short-pedunculate, to 5 cm excluding peduncle; floral bracts broadly triangular-ovate, 7–10 × 7–10 cm, leathery. Flowers: sepals and petals erect-spreading, yellow-green, fleshy, rigid; sepals oblanceolate, 3.5–5.5 × 1.1–1.3 cm, margins straight, apex acute to obtuse; petals elliptic-oblanceolate, abaxially keeled, thinner than sepals, 3.5–5.5 × 1.1–1.3 cm, apex acute to obtuse; lip adnate to column for 1.5–2 cm, yellow-green, becoming dark yellow toward apex, lamina gulletlike, cuneate, rhomboid, 4–5 × ± 3 cm, with apical retuse lobule; disc with central tuft of retrorse scales, several lines of short, fleshy hairs extending to apex; column white, slender, 3–3.5 cm, margins slightly sinuate, adaxially bearded; pollinia yellow; pedicellate ovary 3–5 cm. Berries cylindric, 15–25 × 0.8–1 cm.
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Diagnostic Description

  • Ackerman, J. D. 1992. The orchids of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
  • Ackerman, J. D. 1995. An orchid flora of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. Vol. 73: 1-203.

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Synonym

Myrobroma fragrans Salisbury; Vanilla fragrans (Salisbury) Ames
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Ecology

Habitat

Cypress swamps, hammocks; 0--20m.
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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering Apr.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Vanilla planifolia

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vanilla planifolia

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Wikipedia

Vanilla planifolia

Vanilla planifolia is a species of vanilla orchid. It is native to Mexico, and is one of the primary sources for vanilla flavouring, due to its high vanillin content. Common names are Flat-leaved Vanilla, Tahitian Vanilla (for the Pacific stock formerly thought to be a distinct species), and West Indian Vanilla (also used for the Pompona Vanilla, V. pompona). Often, it is simply referred to as "the vanilla". It was first scientifically named in 1808.

Distribution[edit]

Vanilla planifolia is found in Central America and the West Indies. It prefers hot, wet, tropical climates. It is harvested mostly in Mexico and Madagascar.

Description[edit]

Like all members of the genus Vanilla, V. planifolia is a vine. It uses its fleshy roots to support itself as it grows.

Flowers[edit]

Flowers are greenish-yellow, with a diameter of 5 cm (2 in). They last only a day, and must be pollinated manually, during the morning, if fruit is desired. The plants are self-fertile, and pollination simply requires a transfer of the pollen from the anther to the stigma. If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day. In the wild, there is less than 1% chance that the flowers will be pollinated, so in order to receive a steady flow of fruit, the flowers must be hand-pollinated when grown on farms.

Fruit[edit]

Fruit is produced only on mature plants, which are generally over 3 m (10 ft) long. The fruits are 15-23 cm (6-9 in) long pods (often incorrectly called beans). They mature after about five months, at which point they are harvested and cured. Curing ferments and dries the pods while minimizing the loss of essential oils. Vanilla extract is obtained from this portion of the plant.

Chemistry[edit]

The major chemical components from the pods are vanillin, vanillic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde and 4-hydroxybenzoic acid.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Vanillia planifolia synonyms in Tropicos". 
  2. ^ Reinvestigation of vanillin contents and component ratios of vanilla extracts using high-performance liquid chromatography and gas chromatography. Scharrer A and Mosandl A, Deutsche Lebensmittel-Rundschau, 2001, volume 97, number 12, pages 449-456, INIST:14118840
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Notes

Comments

The long, slender black fruits of Vanilla planifolia are the vanilla “beans” of commerce. The natural distribution of Vanilla planifolia is most likely tropical evergreen forests of eastern Mexico and the Caribbean watersheds of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras (M. Soto Arenas, pers. comm.). It has been cultivated and escaped or persisted in many areas of the tropics, including south Florida. It is known in the flora area from Long Pine Key, Everglades National Park, Miami, Miami-Dade County, Florida (P. M. Brown 2002). 

 Pollinators are euglossine bees (J. D. Ackerman 1983), which do not occur in Florida. Natural pollination has been recorded in Florida, although very rarely (C. A. Luer 1972).

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