Australian Tropical Rainforest Orchids

Vanilla planifolia

Vanilla Orchid

*Vanilla planifolia Jacks. In Andrews, Bot. Repos. 8: t. 538 (1808 [Nov 1808]). Type: West Indies (holo ?).

Myrobroma fragrans Salisb., Parad. Lond. 2, t. 82 (1807)., nom. illeg.; Vanilla fragrans Ames, Sched. Orchid. 7: 36 (1924), nom. illeg. Type: cultivated C. Greville s.n. (holo ?).


Naturalised in lowland rainforest near Cairns and Frenchmans Creek near Bellenden Ker in north-eastern Queensland.

Native to the southern parts of Florida, the West Indies, Mexico, Central America and South America.


Terrestrial herb forming large climbing clumps. Stems climbing, long and vine-like, green, anchored by roots from the nodes. Leaves scattered along stem, alternate, elliptic to lanceolate, 10-22 cm x, 5-7.5 cm, bright green, shiny, thick, leathery. Inflorescence an axillary raceme, condensed, 20-75 mm long. Flowers 5-20, crowded, opening singly, resupinate, porrect, 60-75 mm x 40-60 mm, greenish yellow, strongly fragrant, short-lived. Petals and sepals narrowly ovate, not opening widely. Labellum tubular, margins fused to column, 50-70 mm x 25 mm, broadly flared at apex, with long narrow basal stalk and central cluster of hair-like lobes, margins crinkled. Capsules pendulous, cylindrical, often curved, 10-20 cm long.


Plants can be very large, forming climbing strands on trees with some stems scrambling over the ground and extending to adjacent trees. In Queensland the patches seem to be localised and spreading by vegetative means rather than seed.

Flowering period: November-April.

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