Plants for the Vivarium 
Text by Chris Miller
Family: Orchidaceae
 Genus: Vanilla
     Vanilla species are about the oldest surviving genus of orchids.  They probably evolved to their present form during the Cretaceous period (when super-continents were breaking up) as they are found in nearly every tropical region around the word. This period also coincides with the differentiation of the other flowering plants. 

     It is a vine style plant with a stem seperated into sections (internodes) by nodes that contain: a thick (succlent) oval shaped leaf, at least one root bud (where the root grows from), and meristem tissue (where a new plant grows from).  The leaves are alternate, and droop slightly.  The plant (depending on species and cultivar) will begin to flower at about 12' (as mine did), but will not really get going until it reaches 20'.  The flowers come out of an inflorence that is retained from year to year, and will continue to increase in flower count until it reaches about 10 flowers.  The flowers are really short lived, 12-60 hours depending on species. This is why vanilla extract is so 
expensive, as the flowers require hand pollination within hours of them opening. 

     The most commonly seen species of vanilla is the V. planifola.  Vanilla plants are still expensive, but they will drop in price as more commercial greenhouses make an effort to produce it.  Luckily it is an easy plant to grow and there is only one real thing to worry about, and that is standing 
water on the leaves and more importantly in the newest growth. 

     The plant will grow agressively, and is strong enough to lift a tank lid if left unchecked.  This can be controlled by "pegging" or by cutting the top off and replanting it, as it will continue to grow and the origional plant will shoot off new growths from the leaf nodes.  This is an unusual trait for an orchid, but heck the whole vining habit is too. It grows well in the ABG mix, or Orchid Grade long fibered spaghnum moss. 


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 Copyright © 1999 by Kenneth K. Uy. All rights reserved.