Vanilla calopogon Rchb.f., Otia Bot. Hamburg.: p40 (1878)
Local Name: The Beautiful Bearded Vanilla, leafless orchid
Flower Size 1.6 to 1.8″ [4 to 4.5 cm]
History : There are more than 120 species of Vanilla that can be found in tropical areas of the world. However only 5 to 6 species are known to produced the vanillin extract which is essential in aroma therapy, food, cosmetic, baking and ice cream.
Totonac people, who inhabit the East Coast of Mexico in the present-day state of Veracruz, Mexico, were the first to cultivate vanilla. According to Totonac mythology, the tropical orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover.
world map showing areas where vanilla orchid species can be found
Vanilla is a flavor derived from orchid species of the genus Vanilla. primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved Vanilla planifolia . The word vanilla, derived from the the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), simply translates as little pod. people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs, and Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.
Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of Melipona bees. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavoring is derived. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles Francois Antoine discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, Edmond albius , a slave who lived on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand- pollinated . Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.
close-up view of the flower
Origin: Unlike its related cousins from Central and South America , There are about 4 to 6 species of Vanilla orchid species that can be found in the Philippines. Found in northwestern Luzon provinces , Norzagaray , Angat , San Jose del Monte in Bulacan, Rizal province in dry thickets and on trees in forests at low elevations as a large sized, hot growing climbing terrestrial with a terete stem without leaves that blooms in the late spring and early summer on a short, 4 to 6 flowered inflorescence . It is endemic to Luzon island. This orchid species is a climber and is leafless. In my several years of cultivation. The orchid will become active during the onset of the rainy season by producing vines.
On June 29, 1890 , it was recollected in dry thickets in Luzon then later in 1918 Mr. Maximo Ramos collected some in the town of Burgos , Ilocos Norte on July 20, 1918 . Some specimen was later discovered in Rizal province by Mr. Alejandro , an orchid collector by profession sometime in 1948. The flower does not last very long, it only bloom 2 to 3 days .
My orchid specimen was given to me by a friend from the Philippine Orchid Society ( Mr. Reynaldo Lucas ) before he left the country sometime in 2008. According to the book of Ms. Mona Lisa Steiner the orchid species used to be found in Novaliches , Valenzuela , Bulacan areas . But with the recent developments , one can hardly see any orchid species growing in wild places, most of which are already converted into subdivisions, highways or industrial areas. One last hope will be the La Mesa Watershed area.
Vanilla calopogon climbing vine
The specific name calopogon means ” beautiful beard ‘ refer to this attractive labellum . Its pale greenish lilac colored flowers is a sight to behold.
References and Bibliographies :
Davis S. Reg, Steiner , Mona Liza 1952 New York , USA page 239 to page 241
The Complete Writings of Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing on Philippine Orchids , 1981 Eugenio Lopez Foundation, page 103 to 105