Wayne and I have three vanilla orchid plants. None of them are marked, so I don't know their species names. We bought them at various plant sales in hope that one day we might have flowers and our own little vanilla plantation, not having to pay exorbitant prices for my favorite flavor. We have our plants in hanging pots. One of them is in orchid bark, which I now know is the wrong medium for this plant.
While shelving new nonfiction books at my library, I came across Vanilla Orchids: Natural History and Cultivation by Ken Cameron. I have a new understanding of this amazing plant after reading the book. First, we need to repot them in compost. Vanilla is a terrestrial orchid. Planting in rich soil or compost is best. Vanilla is also a vining orchid. It needs support on which to grow. It wants shade.
There are about 100 or so wild vanilla species known. The fruit, which is commonly called 'vanilla bean' is not a bean, or legume. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and work to produce the seed pod we find in the grocery store labeled Vanilla Bean. We bought some vanilla 'beans' at the last Orchid Society Show. You can make vanilla extract out of them. We also bought a Vanilla orchid.
Flowers are only born on mature vines. The flower lasts only a couple of days. It must be hand pollinated in order to produce a fruit, at least here in central Florida. According to the book, this is best done very early in the morning within 8 hours of the flower opening. One needs small tools and fingers to do this. After pollination, a fruit may be born. They can take nine months to ripen. It can take another six months of harvesting, curing, and drying to produce the aromatic spice we know as vanilla.
I look forward to posting about our vanilla bean harvest sometime in 2015. I'll be happy if I just see a flower. In the meantime, we have these orchids blooming now...