Vanilla planifolia

🌿Vanilla planifolia (pompona?)🌿 vine on a tree in Florida. Yes, you can grow THE vanilla plant🌸🍦 in your home! Just don’t expect any vanilla beans.

Hailing from Central and Northern South America, this sometimes terrestrial (sometimes epiphytic) vine grows on trees in hot humid wet tropical lowlands where it reaches gigantic lengths of over 30 feet (10m) long! When mature, this plant will bloom randomly throughout the year with short-lived flowers. However, it will probably never reach the size it needs to be to flower indoors, so it’s best grown indoors as a foliage plant. In a greenhouse, it’s possible to make it flower.

It’s the original source of vanilla (which is mostly chemicals called vanillins), which comes from the seed pods of painstakingly hand-pollinated flowers. Because of this labor intensive process, true vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron is the first).
What must folks don’t know is that many plants are cocktails of the same chemicals, known as secondary metabolites. These metabolites help the plant fight infections, signal other plants, etc, but we humans find other uses for them such as flavorings, medicine, and even poison!
Interestingly, oak trees also produce vanillins, which end up in whisky and other barrel-aged alcohols, alongside tannins, another secondary metabolite that’s technically a natural preservative and slight poison (lol).

Vanilla vine in-situ

Vanilla is a giant pain to grow, and unless you have a greenhouse, you’ll never get the plant big enough to flower. It’s a fun novelty for a large vivarium though! Plant in sandy soil amended with orchid bark chips. Blast with direct sunbeams☀️ and keep the humidity above 60%💦💦💦💦 at all times. Outside a vivarium, the only place I’ve been successful with vanilla was a bathroom with a window. Keep the soil perpetually moist, but not wet.💧💧💧 Not easy to grow, but a great novelty if you can!

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