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Vanilla - Jacks. ex Andrews

Common Name Vanilla
Family Orchidaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards Calcium oxalate crystals are present in the plant, which may cause dermatitis in vanilla workers[310 ].(Handling plant may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction )
Habitats An epiphytic plant, it grows wild in trees, producing aerial roots that penetrate fissures and cracks in the bark[296 ]. Usually found climbing on trees in warm, wet tropical low land forests at elevations from sea-level to 600 metres[418 ].
Range S. America - Bolivia, Colombia; Central America - Costa Rica to Mexico; naturalized in many other ar
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade
Vanilla Vanilla

Vanilla Vanilla


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Native to Mexico and Central America, Vanilla planifolia or also known as Vanilla is a climbing vine about 10-15 m long. It has aerial roots which support the plant by clinging into trees. The flowers are greenish-yellow, large, waxy and last only a day. The fruits are long pods containing small black seeds. The leaves are long, pointed, and fleshy. Medicinally, vanilla is used in the treatment of fevers, spasms, and caries. Vanilla extracts are used in pharmaceutical preparations. The seed pods are cooked as used as food flavoring. It is also used in perfumes and soaps. Plant is grown from herbaceous stem cuttings or seeds. The flowers need to be hand pollinated in the early morning.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Vanilla is an evergreen Perennial Climber growing to 15 m (49ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10. The flowers are pollinated by Moths.
The plant prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant is not wind tolerant.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Epidendrum rubrum Lam. Myrobroma fragrans Salisb. Notylia planifolia (Jacks. ex Andrews) Conz. Notyl

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Seedpod - cooked. Used as a flavouring in a wide range of foods such as ice creams, confectionery, baked goods, puddings etc[301 ]. The seedpods contain about 3.5% vanillin[238 ]. The pod can be placed in sugar and left for the flavour to diffuse into the sugar. This sugar is then used as a sweet flavouring in various dishes, especially cakes and desserts[238 ]. The fruit is a dark-brown, 3-angled capsule 15 - 28cm long containing many small seeds[418 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Traditionally, the seedpods are used as an aphrodisiac, carminative, emmenagogue and stimulant[310 ].They are said to reduce or cure fevers, spasms and caries[310 ]. Vanilla extracts (especially tinctures according to pharmacopoeias) are used in pharmaceutical preparations such as syrups, primarily as a flavouring agent[310 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Other Uses The seedpod is used in perfumes and soaps[238 , 418 ].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

The plant thrives in hot moist insular climates with frequent, but not excessive rain and requires two drier months to check vegetative growth and bring the vines into flower[418 ]. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are in the range 21 - 30°c, but can tolerate 10 - 33°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall of 2,000 - 2,500mm, tolerating 1,500 - 3,000mm[418 ]. An epiphytic plant, growing in pockets of humus on tree branches[238 ]. It requires a position in semi-shade, well-protected from winds[296 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 5.5 - 7, tolerating 4.3 - 8[418 ]. Plants produced from short cuttings, around 30cm in length, will take 3 - 5 years before they flower and start to produce fruit. If longer cuttings, around 90 - 100cm in length, are used, then fruiting can commence after only 1 - 2 years[418 ]. Under favourable conditions a plant may grow 60 - 120cm per month[310 ]. The plant has an economic life of about 10 - 15 years before yields drop and it needs replacing[418 ]. The flowers usually need to be hand pollinated, especially when being cultivated outside the plants natural range. The fruits mature in 180 - 270 days from flowering[418 ]. They are harvested when still green and lacking their distinctive aroma, and are then put through a lengthy curing process during which time they turn brown and develop their aroma[418 ]. Yields are very variable - a good vanillery may yield about 2.5 - 4 t/ha per year of fresh fruit, which gives 500 - 800 kg/ha of cured beans[418 ]. The flowers are pollinated by a specific species of moth in the night time. In areas where the moth is absent, hand pollination is necessary[296 ]. Flowering Time: Mid Spring Late Spring/Early Summer. Bloom Color: Chartreuse (Yellow-Green). Spacing: 4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m).

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - surface sow, preferably as soon as it is ripe, and do not allow the compost to dry out. The seed of this species is extremely simple, it has a minute embryo surrounded by a single layer of protective cells. It contains very little food reserves and depends upon a symbiotic relationship with a species of fungus. The fungal hyphae invade the seed and enter the cells of the embryo. The orchid soon begins to digest the fungal tissue and this acts as a food supply for the plant until it is able to obtain nutrients from decaying material in the soil[200 ]. It is best to use some of the soil that is growing around established plants in order to introduce the fungus, or to sow the seed around a plant of the same species and allow the seedlings to grow on until they are large enough to move. Cuttings, 90 - 120cm long, with at least three leaf nodes. Sit them in loose, friable soil, but do not bury deeply or they will rot[296 ]. New shoots develop after 30 - 40 days[310 ]. Cuttings 1.5 - 2 metres long can be taken at any time of the year, but are best towards the end of the dry season[238 ]. The cuttings are kept loosely coiled in a dry, shady place for 2 - 3 weeks before insertion in open compost[238 ]. New shoots develop after 30 - 40 days[310 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Species Orchid, Vanilla Orchid, Commercial Vanilla, Flat Plane Leafed Vanilla, Vainella, Vaniglia, banira, baunilha, bourbon vanilla, flat-leaved vanilla, madagascar vanilla, mexican vanilla, tahitian vanilla, vainilla, vaniglia, vanilj, vanilla, vanilla orchid, vanillae fructus, vanilla|vanila, vanille, vanille echte, vaniller aromatique, vanillier, west indian vanilla.

Native Range

NORTHERN AMERICA: Mexico, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, SOUTHERN AMERICA: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Martinique, United States, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, French Guiana, Suriname, Venezuela, Brazil, Espírito Santo, Colombia, Ecuador,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Achlys triphyllaVanilla leaf, Sweet after deathPerennial0.4 0-0  LMHSM012
Arthropodium milleflorumPale Vanilla LilyPerennial0.3 7-10  LMNM30 
Arthropodium minusSmall Vanilla LilyPerennial0.3 7-10  LMNM20 
Trilisa odoratissimaVanilla Plant, VanillaleafPerennial1.0 0-0  LMSNM111
Vanilla planifoliaVanillaPerennial Climber15.0 10-12 M FSDM423

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


Jacks. ex Andrews

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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