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Vanilla

(Vanilla planifolia, V. fragrans, V. tahitensis, V. pompona)

Other Names: Vainilla, Vanille, Vanilina

Description:
Vanilla is a climbing orchid vine, climbing up an existing tree, pole or other support and can reach a length of 30 metres. The stem is 1 cm diameter and leaves are alternate dark green and fleshy and between 5 to 12 cm long and 1 to 3 cm wide. The flowers give away their orchid heritage which are white and distinctive. The pods take about 6 months to grow and mature after pollination and can be 10 to 25 cm long. The pods take a further 4 to 5 months to dry before they can be used for the distinctive flavour.

Uses:
Vanilla is a sweet flavouring which has many culinary uses. Vanilla can be used in its pod form (once dried), as a powder or as an extract. Its major use is in flavouring ice cream but it is also used in chocolate, custard, caramel, coffee and cakes.

Health:
Vanilla is used as an aphrodisiac, stimulant and to relieve fevers and gastric complaints. It is also known to have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.

Climate:
Vanilla require a tropical climate, hot with high humidity but with 50% shade. Rainfall should be average. As it is a vine it requires support such as a tree, pole or string trellis. Flowering occurs once a year in spring and each flower must be hand pollination with 12 hours of opening. Natural pollination is very rare outside its native habitat in Mexico/central America.

Soil:
Soils for vanilla cultivation should be loose, with high organic matter content and loamy texture. It must be well drained. Soil pH should be acidy around 5.5 to 7.0.

Propagation:
Vanilla is propagated by stem cutting or by tissue culture. The cuttings should be nurtured in 50% shade and roots well established before planting in the desired location.

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