Vanilla planifolia is the plant responsible for natural vanilla flavor. These vanilla orchids grow as vines in south Florida, USDA Hardiness zones 10a to 11a. They are found climbing up host trees and flowering in the branches. The leaves are oval shaped, bright green, and range in length from 3 to 24 inches. The bell-shaped blooms come in white, yellow, or pink.
Today, Madagascar and Indonesia produce most of our planet’s vanilla. There, growers cut, cure, and ship the beans around the world. The cost of shipping is part of what makes this edible so expensive. Theft and waste also reduce the amount available. Some vanilla is grown in Hawaii and Puerto Rico but moving production to the continental US would lower the price and make the supply more sustainable.
Good news for Florida growers: Vanilla production may be coming home soon! The UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC) has begun working with vanilla. Dr. Alan Chambers and his TREC team are trialing multiple species. Their goal is to provide Florida growers with varieties designed for large-scale production.
There has been tremendous interest in growing vanilla by homeowners. As a result, Alan’s team have created a brief survey in order to facilitate communication and identify suitable candidates for the program. If you are interested to receive vanilla plants and grow it in your property, you can find a link to the survey below. It should take about 2 minutes to complete.
Also, please review our vanilla growing guide using the link below. The growing guide is freely available through UF EDIS and contains basic information for Florida vanilla growers.