Surprise Close Encounter with a Vanilla Orchid

vanilla planifolia

I have been trained to look up as I’m wandering around the Naples Botanical Garden – something that is hard to remember when there are so many delightful things to see at eye level and lower. We were by the front entrance when I noticed what looked like a vanilla orchid vine growing up a tree so I asked the help of the person standing at his podium with the assigned task of helping visitors. He said yes it was a vanilla orchid and it was blooming up high but probably wouldn’t be pollinated because it needs a special bee. The garden is growing vanilla orchids on trellises and will be hand pollinating them in the future when they become mature enough to bloom. It took me a long time to find the blooms on this vine growing up the tree because they were on an adjacent tree where the same vine was climbing even higher. I finally saw them – wilted and drooping because they bloom sequentially, opening at night, and then only lasting a few hours in the day. I would have needed a 400 mm lens to capture those blooms.

Vanilla Orchid

You can imagine my excitement this week when I was leaving the water lilies in the Brazilian Garden and saw another vanilla vine growing up a tree. Upon looking up I saw a blossom within “shooting range.” What a perfect close-up to see the beauty of the orchid and understand the blooming cycle. We can see yesterday’s blossom and the one from the day before – and of course there are more buds waiting to open. These won’t produce the seed pods that hold that wonderful vanilla bean that makes the vanilla that we love so much. They aren’t being hand pollinated (click here to go to the Naples Botanical Garden web site to learn more about the pollination of the vanilla orchids).

Getting the orchid pollinated is just the beginning of a very long, labor intensive process of having beans ready for making vanilla extract. According to the latest garden post on the vanilla orchids:

If the orchid is successfully pollinated, it’ll produce string bean-looking seed pods that grow for eight to nine months. The pods are harvested, exposed to heat to kill the plant cells; placed in plastic bags and “sweated” at elevated temperatures for 24 to 48 hours; exposed to sunlight a few hours a day for 12 to 15 days; dried on trays for another 70 days; and conditioned over one to two months.

I am looking forward to following the saga of the vanilla orchid and bean for several years. Stay tuned!

This post was brought to you as my response to the Len-Artist Photography Challenge: Close and Closer. I had so much fun thinking about the tension between photographing to capture context and photographing closer to capture detail as I wandered around the Naples Botanical Garden this week. Thanks, Anne, for your creative challenge.

10 thoughts on “Surprise Close Encounter with a Vanilla Orchid

  1. Aren’t they beautiful? I’ve tried to cultivate many orchids over the years, but there just isn’t enough light and heat. Thanks for sharing and have a good day ☺️ Aiva

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