Aromatic plants

The vanilla plant

The vanilla plant: a bit of history

Vanilla is a plant of the Orchidaceae family. Among the many species of vanilla, the most common are “vanilla fragrans” (also known as “vanilla planifolia”), “pompona vanilla” and “vanilla tahitiensis”. It is native to Mexico and the most consumed spice in the world is obtained from its fruit: vanilla, in fact. Botanically speaking, the plant produces capsules commonly called sticks (black and shiny). The preciousness of its fruits make it the only orchid cultivated for reasons that are not only ornamental. But producing excellent vanilla, rich in aroma, requires long care and attention. The economic value of the sticks is calculated by weight, which makes vanilla one of the most expensive agricultural products in the world.

Grow vanilla as a houseplant

Among the aromatics, vanilla is cultivated for commercial uses linked to the preciousness of its fruits, but its beauty and elegance make it a widespread plant also in the apartment. At home, however, it requires special attention: it should be placed as close as possible to a window, so that it is well exposed to light but not to direct sun. It can grow and develop only in a sufficiently humid environment, with an ideal temperature between 24 ° and 34 ° during the day and 14 ° and 24 ° at night. In the house, the most suitable rooms are the kitchen and the bathroom, as long as they are bright. If uncut, the vanilla plantit can reach 10 meters and, developing in height, it needs a brace. The substrate must be draining and contain pozzolan mixed with soil for orchids. Frequent watering and nebulization of the leaves with non-calcareous and chlorine-free water will help to maintain the constant humidity it needs.

Among the aromatic plants, vanilla is the least suitable for growing in a vegetable garden and this is because it is a tropical plant, which needs constant humidity and which suffers from the cold. In Italy, the vanilla plantit cannot survive our winters if planted in the open ground. To grow it in a vegetable garden or garden, you need a greenhouse that reproduces the tropical microclimate. The soil must be rich in organic matter, well drained and low in calcium. Since it develops thanks to its climbing roots (in nature it often sticks to the trunks of neighboring plants), it must be placed on a stake covered with moss. Vanilla must be fertilized regularly with specific fertilizers for orchids and fertilization must accompany the growth of the plant: very sparing in winter, normal in spring and summer.

The vanilla plant and its flowers

The flowers of the vanilla plant develop in groups of eight or ten, starting from the axil of the leaves; they bloom for only one day and usually mature one at a time. White, light yellow or greenish in color, they have the classic structure of an orchid flower. Important detail: the fertilization of the flower can only take place through an external fertilizer. In the places of origin this fertilization takes place thanks to the endemic bees of the Melipona species, while away from the natural environment it must be done manually. After fertilization, the ovary that served as a stem turns into a large pod 12 to 25 cm long. Each of them has a diameter of 7 to 10 mm and contains thousands of tiny seeds which are then released by the breaking of the ripe fruit. However,

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