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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *