Vanilla Culture on La Réunion

It’s inter­est­ing to see how vanil­la is grown in the var­i­ous vanil­la-grow­ing regions of the world. Most vanil­la in La Réunion is grown on small plan­ta­tions on nat­ur­al, liv­ing sup­ports. In these pho­tos, the vanil­la vine is grow­ing on dra­cae­na plants, a plant that is very easy to grow in trop­i­cal regions. (Here in Hawaii, the dra­cae­na is known local­ly as a “mon­ey tree” for rea­sons I have nev­er heard explained)  Vanilla is very sen­si­tive to the amount of shade, and the dra­cae­na is eas­i­ly pruned from the ground to con­trol the amount of light get­ting to the the vanil­la plants.

Vanilla vines (Vanilla plan­i­fo­lia) cul­ti­vat­ed on Dracaena reflexa on Réunion island
Detail of the vanilla growing on Dracaena
Detail of the vanil­la grow­ing on Dracaena

In this detail, we see that the vanil­la has recent­ly been pol­li­nat­ed, you can see the rem­nant of the flower at the tip of some of the pods. I don’t know the func­tion of the lit­tle blue rib­bons, per­haps they are to mark vines that have been ful­ly pol­li­nat­ed. It is very impor­tant not to over-pol­li­nate, this results in small, low-val­ue pods. It takes some expe­ri­ence to know when the lim­it is reached, so per­haps these have been marked by the grow­er so the work­ers know which flow­ers to leave unfertilized.

A Vanilla plan­i­fo­lia vine grown on Réunion Island (Maison de la Vanille, Saint-André). Photo: David Monniaux
Vanilla fra­grans dry­ing on clays, Bras-Panon, La Réunion, November 2004

This is an inter­est­ing pic­ture, we don’t see this part of the process very often. After the beans have sweat­ed for a week or so, they are air-dried. This takes sev­er­al weeks in the moist trop­i­cal air, so the still-plump but dark brown pods are loaded onto trays like this and left to dry. It looks like this is tak­ing place in a shed of some kind, we do our final dry­ing of the pods in the open air. Note the dry­ing is tak­ing place in November, while here in Hawaii, dry­ing begins in late March and con­tin­ues through June.

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