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Genus Vanilla

Genus Vanilla

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


  • Genus Myrobroma Salisb., Parad. Lond. (1807) t. 82
  • Genus Vanillophorum Neck., Elem. 3 (1790) 134

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.

In New Guinea 7 species, of which 1 escaped from cultivation::

Vanilla giulianettii
Vanilla kaniensis
Vanilla kempteriana
Vanilla ramosa
Vanilla tahitensis
Vanilla utteridgei
Vanilla wariensis


1a. Leaves without petiole, sessile == 2
1 b. Leaves petiolate == 3

2a. Leaves 10-20 by 2.5-3.5 cm, thick fleshy. Inflorescence to 5 cm long. -- Sepals and petals narrow, not overlapping at the base. Lip distinctly 3-lobed, hirsute == Vanilla tahitensis
2b. Leaves 25 by 6 cm, thin (when dry). Infructescence 10 cm long – Sepals and petals not known == Vanilla giulianettii

3a. Leaves 1.5-1.8 by 0.5-0.8 cm == Vanilla utteridgei
3b. Leaves at least 10 by 2.3 cm == 4

4a. Inflorescence branched. Lip distinctly 3-lobed, with a pronounced midlobe == Vanilla ramosa
4b. Inflorescence not branched. Lip not divided in 3 lobes, without pronounced midlobe == 5

5a. Lip in front with irregularly incised margins == Vanilla kempteriana Schltr.
5b. Lip in front with undulate, not incised margins == 6

6a. Leaves 27-35 cm long. Inflorescences to 30 cm long. Sepals c. 4.5 cm long ==Vanilla wariensis Schltr.
6b. Leaves 20-25 cm long. Inflorescences to 20 cm long. Sepals c. 3.3 cm long == Vanilla kaniensis

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.

  • Pridgeon, A. M., P.J. Cribb, M.W. Chase & F.N. Rasmussen (Eds.). 2003. Genera Orchidacearum, Volume 3: Orchidoideae (Part 2), Vanilloideae. Pp. 321-334. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Subfamily Vanilloideae
  • Tribe Vanilleae
  • Genus Vanilla

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).

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Genus Vanilla

Vanilla kempteriana Schltr., plant, sterile, in situ, photo E.F. de Vogel

Genus Vanilla

Vanilla tahitensis J.Moore (syn. V. hirsuta M.A.Clem. & D.L.Jones), flower, photo J.B. Comber, at National Capital Botanical Garden, Port Moresby (note: this species has sometimes escaped from cultivation in PNG)

Genus Vanilla

Vanilla wariensis Schltr., habit and floral analysis, drawing N.H.S. Howcroft 523, based on Takeuchi coll., from Crater Mt. area