Genus Vanilla

Vanilla Mill.,
Gard. Dict., ed. 6, (1752)

Monopodial terrestrial climbing plants, sometimes leafless (not in New Guinea). Stem very long, climbing, branching, green, with a root opposite each leaf (if present). Leaves many, not sheathing at the base, glabrous, persistent, convolute, very fleshy. Inflorescence lateral, a few- to many-flowered raceme or a panicle. Flowers medium-sized to rather large, resupinate, ephemeral, often greenish. Sepals free. Petals free, intermediate in shape between the lateral sepals and the dorsal sepal. Lip without spur, adnate to the column, often hairy inside. Column-foot absent. Pollinia aggregated into a single mealy mass, caudicles absent, stipe absent, viscidium absent.

World wide tropics. About 100 species; in New Guinea 5 species.

Climbing on trees and shrubs in the lowlands and in the mountains, especially in clearings.

These often quite large liana-like orchids are easy to recognise by the green stems with a thick root and a sheathless fleshy leaf at each node, or sometimes (not in New Guinea) with a green scale instead of a leaf. The fugacious flowers are rather large and attractive but not very colourful. The fermented fruits of certain cultivated species (especially V. planifolia Jacks. ex Andrews) are a source of the well-known vanilla flavouring.
Vanilla hirsuta M.A.Clem. & D.L.Jones, a synonym of V. tahitensis J.Moore, was apparently described from a specimen that had escaped from cultivation in Papua New Guinea; it is not a native species in New Guinea and therefore not included here (see photograph).