In our tropical greenhouse the flat-leaved vanilla plant (Vanilla planifolia) is currently flowering; a type of orchid from whose pods vanilla spice is produced. The seeds inside the pod serve to flavour ice cream, pastries and sweets. To obtain the spice, the fruit (the vanilla pod) is fermented at high heat and humidity in order to achieve the familiar and much loved vanilla aroma, and then dried for marketing. Following fermentation, the vanilla pod becomes dark brown.

This species grows wild in tropical regions in Mexico, but today its main production worldwide is in Madagascar and Indonesia. The flower is large and impressive but flowers for only a single day. The commercial grower hand-pollinates the vanilla, which is what we are attempting to do here too, in the hope that we shall be able to see vanilla pods in our tropical greenhouse in a few months’ time.