Family Orchidaceae, Genus Vanilla planifolia
Like many orchids, the vanilla bean orchid is an epiphyte, and lives on a host tree without drawing nutrients from it. The vine clambers up to the treetops in a zigzag fashion, exhibiting long succulent lance-shaped leaves. Each blooming branch will bear one to two dozen creamy blooms, for a total of several hundred flowers on a mature vine.
In its native habitat, a mature vanilla orchid vine can grow to 300 feet or greater. However, you can keep your vine to a manageable 20 feet in greenhouse conditions. Training the vine laterally instead of straight up allows you to get more vine in a smaller space.
The vanilla orchid grows best in bright filtered shade and high humidity. Ideal temperatures are between 60-70 degrees F at night, and 80-95 degrees F during the day. The plants are not frost tolerant.
3-5 years from cutting to bloom
Start your vanilla orchid in a mixture of half bark and half potting mix. This is slightly more dense and heavy than most orchid growing media. Your cutting or small starter plant will need this combination of excellent drainage and nutrients to nourish the plant while the vine develops. After the vine develops its epiphytic roots, it will no longer depend on the roots in the potting mix.
Wherever you grow your vanilla orchid, you must provide this large vine with a sturdy support. In tropical climates, a large tree makes an ideal support. If you grow your vine in a conservatory or greenhouse, a solid wood trellis can support the plant. Don’t bother with fancy latticework; a simple lumber structure is stronger and will soon be obscured by the vine.
Fertilize your vanilla orchid every two weeks during the spring and summer with an orchid fertilizer. Mist your plant regularly and make every effort to keep an 80% humidity level.
Hand-pollinate the flowers in the morning with a chopstick. Remove pollen from the stamen of one flower and place it on the stigma of another flower. Pods will form within a week, and are ready to harvest in 9-10 months.