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An Amazon Adventure
Vanilla Orchid

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a member of the orchid family. While orchids are one of the most beautiful flowers to look at, vanilla is the only produced from these plants. It occurs as a vine that lives for many years and may reach a lenght of 60 to 100 feet. It has both roots attached to the soil and aerial roots taht hold it to the tree it climbs as it searches for sun. The leaves are about 8 inches long and grow alternately along the stem of the plant. Vanilla produces a flower that blooms for only one day and is pollintated by only a few insects due to the small size. In commercial production, pollination is done by hand with wooden rods. It produces a fruit that is about 8 inches long and takes about 9 months to mature.

The bean produces the wonderful flavor that everyone knows. The Indians of central and South America used it for cooking long before the Spaniards came to the new world. However, a fresh bean has no odor at all. Making a usable bean for food is a lengthy process where the bean is collected, dried by exposure to the sun and night sweating for 10 days, and then fermented and cured for up to 5 months. The time involved makes real vanilla a very expensive flavoring. A imitation vanilla flavoring has been developed.