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Vanilla Species

vanilla-species.jpg There are at least 150 species of vanilla indigenous to tropical regions worldwide.

Despite the fact that varieties of the vanilla orchid can be found in such diverse places as Africa and Asia, the only species that have proved to be edible and useful, came originally from the Americas. Further, there are only two members of the American family that have been used commercially: Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Pompona Schiede

A third edible species, Vanilla Tahitensis was believed to have originated by crossing Planifolia and Pompona stock in a plant laboratory in Manila in the 1700s. It is rather a subspecies of Vanilla Planifolia.

Vanilla produces the only edible fruit in the entire orchid family. 

Vanilla Planifolia 

Botanical Name

Vanilla planifolia Andrews or vanilla fragrans

Common Name

Vanilla Orchid


Orchidaceae (orchid family)



vanilla-species-planifolia-opt.jpgThe planifolia is a tropical, evergreen, leafy, and somewhat fleshy vine, growing under a canopy of support trees. The plant is sustainable within a 20-degrees band around the equator. The "Bourbon vanilla" is the term used for vanilla beans grown only on the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar, Reunion, Comoros and Mayotte.

This variety also includes vanillas grown in India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Guatemala, and Uganda, but without the label “Bourbon”.

Vanilla Pompona

vanilla-pompona.jpgThe “Vanillon” (Vanilla Pompona Schiede) is a species of the genus Vanilla. This variety has become very rare, but still found in Guadeloupe and in the West Indies from Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil.

It flowers from January to May. The flowers are greenish yellow with a lip color varying from white to reddish yellow. The leaf shape is oval and wide.

The quality of its beans is nevertheless considered to be lower with a low vanillin content and a strong smell of coumarin. The fruits are shorter and more rounded than those of the reference case (Vanilla planifolia).

Vanilla Tahitensis

Vanilla Tahitensis is a weaker vanilla with ‘fruity, floral, and sweet’ flavors created by the compound heliotropin. Tahitensis is a mutated form of a planifolia orchid from Tahiti, though most Tahitensis vanilla is now grown in Papua New Guinea.

vanilla-tahitensis.jpgSome vanilla of this type is also grown in Tahiti and Indonesia.

The vanillin content in Tahitensis vanilla is lower in comparison to the planifolia vanilla variety.