Saturday, March 6, 2010

The world's most loved orchid







Not many people know that Vanilla is actually an orchid - in fact it's one of the oldest surviving "primitive" orchids, the origins of which date back- give or take- 120 million years.

This orchid can be found in many tropical regions of the world and this distribution supports the theory that genus Vanilla is very ancient and these orchids display a number of archaic features. The scientists established that origins of Vanilla orchid go back to the time when Gondwanaland broke up some 120 million years ago. They base their finding on the theory of plate tectonics and trace the origin of this orchid to the very beginning of the Cretaceous period, or 120 - 130 million year ago.

Difficult to imagine, I know, such a time-frame, and even more humbling to see the plant that kept all of it's genetic imprints intact through Earth's history and evolution and still contributing it's ancient, bold, uncompromising, unchanged energy to our modern times.

There are a number of species contained within this genus and they occur throughout the tropics. The most known are Vanilla planifolia that grows in Asia and Americas and Vanilla polylepis from Africa - in Angola, Zaire, Kenya. The plant mostly farmed for the vanilla essence that is made from seed pods and plants grow as vines that often reach more than 100ft long.

I always wanted to see this orchid growing in it's natural habitat and to experience myself it's special energy, to see how it's pollinated by native birds and see how it adapted to our "modern" culture and a couple of years ago had an opportunity to visit Lifou island in New Caledonia - one of the biggest Vanilla plantations in the Pacific.

Lifou island is part of the Loyalty islands - it's beautiful and pristine paradise with clear waters and streams and waterfalls, abundance of wildlife and magical tropical birds, unusual, ancient plants with huge Vanilla plantation where this orchid grows in it's natural habitat. Native people are very friendly and hospitable and very much tuned to nature, seasons, tides, healing plants and living in tune with all life around them. They plant and harvest and gather by Moon and by stars and I was fortunate to visit an elder of the village, who was a woman, so wise and so humble.

The Vanilla orchids grow through all the island - huge vines everywhere and I was taken through different stages of producing vanilla beans - from planting, to growing to maturing to harvesting and then drying. Few times a year huge ships come to the island to collect the beans and take them all over the world, to be used in so many different ways in our modern living.

So, here it is - a humble Vanilla orchid, as old as the "time" itself, being grown by Native people all over the world who respect it's origin and it's destiny and it's place in our everyday lives. If ever opportunity presents itself for you to visit Vanilla plantation anywhere in the world, be it Mexico or South America or Pacific or Africa - take the chance, you'll be amazed at the knowledge you will take with you.





16 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post! I had the opportunity to visit a vanilla plantation in India, and I brought back s plant with me. It flowers every year, but I don't know how to hand- pollinate it successfully. So far, I have not managed to pollinate a single flower! Thanks for the lovely post!

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  2. Wow, that's really cool :D I had no idea that vanilla was an orchid. Thanks for the niformative post!

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  3. Great post, Klara! I learned some new things and amazing facts! The pictures are absolutely beautiful and your story of visiting the island is captivating. Thanks!!!

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  4. How exotic! I'm not sure I could ever pick an absolute favorite!

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  5. Thank you everyone for your comments, vanilla is really the most unusual orchid and in nature pollinated by native birds and in the home situation it's kind of hit and miss affair to produce beans. Both male and female flowers grow on same vine and hand pollination involves transferring pollen from one to the other, and even then its no guarantee. I have tried growing it in our climate, but our winters are too cold for it, it needs constant warm situations. Still, I can admire the plant from afar and each time I see vanilla bean, remember the beautiful pristine island and it's people, the wise woman and our talk and when I told her that I want to know more about Vanilla plant, she asked me back- "do you understand "forever"?
    I've been asked this question before a few times and it seems for one to understand some plants and orchids, one need to understand "forever" - ahhh.. so much to learn, so little "time"...

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  6. I wish more orchid enthusiasts wrote like you do, Klara. Your writing is very reader-friendly and I learn a lot about orchids when I visit here. I find much that's written about these gorgeous, complex plants is very technical, boring, and in some cases condescending to those who aren't huge enthusiasts, and that puts people off. But your posts are informative, warm, friendly, and I suspect others have decided they could grow an orchid or two based on reading your offerings. So thank you!
    (ps I love 'real' vanilla and won't cook with artificial stuff).

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  7. aloha klara,

    what a beautiful post...we have a commercial orchid farm here in hawaii that i haven't been to yet and they have these vanilla lunch tours which i've always wanted to do.

    i enjoyed reading your vanilla story and photos

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  8. Stunning photo's, Klara. You make it all seem very easy with the excellent information. Very much enjoyed it!

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  9. wow lovely post, great photos too.

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  10. I always loved the vanilla plants. My son in law grows these on his farm and really cherished their beauty.

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  11. Cooool its really amazing photos nice enjoyed alot Thank you

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  12. thanks fr the enlightening post!

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  13. Thanks for sharing those wonderful
    images of those beautiful orchids.

    Aanee xxxx
    Flowers Dublin

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  14. I am so glad I came over to visit and found this post! Truly fascinating history. I love the simplicity and lines of this orchid. I never knew vanilla was such a stunning plant. Thank you for the introduction to this beautiful island. What a paradise! ;>)

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