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Vanilla planifolia is a species of vanilla orchid. These are native to Mexico, and are one of the primary sources for vanilla flavoring, due to its high vanillin content.
Flowers are greenish-yellow, with a 2" diameter. They last only a day, and must be pollinated manually, during the morning, if fruit is desired. The plants are self-fertile, and pollination simply requires a transfer of the pollen from the anther to the stigma. If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day.
In the wild, there is less than 1% chance that the flowers will be pollinated, so in order to receive a steady flow of fruit, the flowers must be hand-pollinated when grown on farms. Hand pollinators can pollinate about 1,000 flowers per day.
Fruit is produced only on mature plants, which are generally over 10 ft long. The fruits are 6-9" long pods. They mature after about five months, at which point they are harvested and cured. Curing ferments and dries the pods while minimizing the loss of essential oils. Vanilla extract is obtained from this portion of the plant.
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