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The pale yellow flower of the vanilla orchid only lasts a single day. Each flower must be pollinated individually. In Mexico where vanilla originated this was the role of a small bee called the melapona. This bee is now extinct so without the help of man, vanilla pods rarely occur in the wild.
It wasn’t until 1836 that Charles Morren, a French botanist, finally discovered the secret of growing vanilla. His careful examination of the anatomy of the flower led to his discovery of the difficulty of pollination. From then onwards pollination could be performed by hand. Knowledge of artificial pollination spread to European nations who had colonized tropical regions with climates suitable for growing orchids.
Pollinating vanilla in India
Close up of pollinating vanilla
Vanilla bean flowers are yellow to greenish-yellow with long tubular flowers; almost like a stretched out daffodil. Once these flowers blossom, you will need to pollinate by hand in order to grow vanilla beans.
To pollinate, remove the lip of the flower. Then, take the pollen from the anther area of the flower and place it in the nectar, which is located in the stigma---a flap that is on the top right column behind the flower.