Have you ever seen a documentary about baby sea turtles? You know the one - where the endangered baby turtle faces slim odds and harrowing trials to make it to the ocean?
Vanilla orchid keikis (babies) are the baby sea turtles of Paauilo, Hawai’i these days.
While it might not be as dramatic as overcoming countless predators, there are millions of ways to kill an orchid vanilla vine and just a few ways to ensure it thrives.
That be said, we are increasing those odds with a new, innovative approach to vanilla vine reproduction called “Tissue Culture.” Whether you are growing your own vanilla at home or curious about how the vanilla in your cabinet is made, we hope you enjoy learning a little more about the process.
The Vanilla Orchid is primarily reproduced through a cloning/cutting process (cuttings are removed from an older vine and replanted in a new area). Cuttings are a very effective way to "rapidly" reproduce Vanilla Vines, however they do have the slight downside of requiring a large chunk of an adult vanilla vine, and you can normally only harvest a handful of cuttings off each mature vanilla vine. As an added complication, when a cutting is taken from an adult vanilla vine in a commercial field, it can be difficult to tell if the adult vine (and the cutting) have any underlying diseases or deficiencies (as this plant was not raised in an isolated environment).
Don't get me wrong, taking cuttings of a mature vanilla vine is still one of the best ways to cultivate new plants, and we are not knocking it, especially for small farms and hobbyists where a more intimate understanding of an individual plant's traits are possible. In larger commercial settings, however, it is next to impossible to check every cutting for disease. The last thing any vanilla grower wants is to start their baby "keiki" vine cuttings off on the wrong foot. Any kind of disease in a cutting (most likely transferred from the mother vine) from day one is a problem. Proper vanilla reproduction is critical, especially to a commercial vanilla operation.
Enter Tissue Culture! Tissue culture addresses most of these issues by selecting only the best vine stock to reproduce off of. Vines that are selected for reproduction are tested and monitored for good traits and lack of disease. Vines selected for reproduction are normally grown in isolation to minimize exposure to diseases that may be more common in general growing areas.
In tissue culture reproduction, a 12" section of mature vanilla vine (a single cutting yielding a single new vanilla vine if using the cutting method mentioned before) can potentially yield hundreds of tissue culture baby vanilla vines. This is accomplished by "shaving" tiny tissue samples off of the adult vanilla vine cutting and propagating those shavings, allowing for hundreds of vines from a small cutting, all clones of one another! Tissue culture is one of the primary ways most slow growing orchids (like vanilla) are propagated.
Tissue culture allows you to grow just a few vines in perfect disease free isolation, but still get thousands of equally perfect disease free baby vanilla vine clones.
Now that we have received our new baby vanilla vines, the hard part begins, acclimating the tissue culture vines to the beautiful air, sun, and wind of Paauilo, Hawaii! We are in the process of building a nursery for our newest members of the vanilla farm and will keep you all updated on their progress over the coming months! Stay tuned and follow along on Facebook or Instagram for more updates!
Till next time, mahalo!