More on pollination: Vanilla

I have almost finished reading the book An Immense World:  How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong. I have learned so many fascinating things about animals and been encouraged to consider crazy perspectives, all while thoroughly enjoying his writing style. The bibliography is crazy long. I highly recommend the book.

In the chapter, “Living Batteries: Electric Fields,” the author writes about animals that generate electricity (around 350 species of fish can do so!), and he talks about the ability to sense electric fields with electroreceptors (sharks!). Bumblebees’ electroreceptors are their tiny hairs, and flowers have electric fields strong enough to move those little hairs. The author had a paragraph of questions that arose for him when thinking about aerial electroreception and pollination. This all reminded me of hand pollinating the cherimoya, and Hubby was just wrapping up hand pollinating vanilla.

Hubby’s not sharing a whole lot of info, saying that you can find lots of info on the web. This is just a little bit of appetizer info and photos, in case you want to look into more detail. Hubby is on the Vanilla Team, one of a few West Hawai’i Master Gardener projects. This is done at the greenhouse at the university extension office, which we happen to live near.

The volunteers each sign up to pollinate one day of the week for the approximately three months when there are flowers, let’s say approximately March through June. They’re supposed to pollinate between 10am-noon on their assigned day, when the flowers open to the right stage for pollination. Each flower opens up for one day only. It either gets pollinated on that day, or the chance is gone. They each log how many flowers they pollinated, and some have a specific tape color that they tag their pollinated flower with so they can later see whether they truly pollinated it (it’s a learning process). It takes another 6-9 months of growing on the vine before the pollinated flower is a harvestable bean. There were days when Hubby pollinated 16, and now it’s down to the stragglers. None last week; one this week. Pollination is probably over for the season.

I found this old article about the vanilla project from 2015. The processing after harvest isn’t straightforward or easy. The current team doesn’t process it the way it’s described in this article anymore. I know an older man who is my go-to plant expert, who was a member of the Orchid Club for many years, and who grows beautiful orchids. He used to grow a few vanilla plants, but the whole processing thing was a turn-off for him. Been there, done that. We’re still interested and just learning, just for learning’s sake.

2 thoughts on “More on pollination: Vanilla

  1. Ooh, Cathy had been reading An Immense World as well! She’s been rattling off so many fun facts to know and tell. I’m looking forward to reading it next.

    In the meantime I’ll have to read up on vanilla. 👍

  2. Oh, I loved Ed Yong’s book as well!! I have recommended it to anyone who will listen to me. I read it when it first came out, and am probably ready to read it again, because I’m sure I didn’t retain very much of the information and will appreciate new things the second time around. Enjoying your account of the vanilla learning experiment … no wonder that stuff is so expensive!

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