Over the past few weeks I have been hand pollinating Vanilla planifolia flowers in the North Garden. This is one of the vanilla orchids from which vanilla pods are produced . There are over a 100 species of vanilla in this genus. Only a handful of the species are used for flavorings.
When a vanilla flower is pollinated, the seed pod that is produced is the vanilla “bean” that is used in the flavoring of food and as an addition to many other products. It is not a true “bean” (like a green bean) but actually an orchid seed pod. We have 3 different kinds of vanilla in the North Garden, all climbing on the wall between the North Garden and the Palm Dome. Two of the species of vanilla are blooming today. I have been hand pollinating this flush of flowers on the Vanilla planifolia since March 5th. Vanilla grows in many parts of the world, like Madagascar, where its pollinators do not live. The vanilla we have is native to parts of Mexico. So it needs to be hand pollinated to produce fruits.
Flowers grow in clusters and a few open each day over about a 6 week period. The flowers are receptive to being pollinated for only 4-6 hours, generally in the early morning. I have been pollinating the flowers about 10am any day that I can get the lift and have access to open flowers. I have attempted pollination of 45 flowers since March 5 and it looks like there are at least a dozen pods that have formed!!! Yay!! Not fantastic odds but my goal was to get one pod---so I am doing OK!! This is the first time that I have had success pollinating vanilla!
- Gardener Margaret