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Growing Vanilla in Florida

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The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is continuously looking for new agricultural crops that will grow well in Florida. A crop that they are experimenting with is vanilla.

In Florida, agriculture is the second largest industry, only trailing tourism. Agriculture is vital to the Florida economy and finding new crops protects against new parasites and pests that threaten our existing crops. The Florida citrus industry has been decimated by citrus canker and greening, as well as cheaper citrus from overseas. Hopps, varieties of grapes, pineapples and papaya are all crops that are being grown in Hernando County.

Vanilla is a valuable crop that has become more expensive as demand has grown, but supply has not kept up. It is the second-most expensive spice, with only saffron being more expensive by weight.

The vanilla plant originated in Central America and now has three major species. These are Vanilla planifolia, which is mainly grown in Madagascar and other areas near the Indian Ocean, although it most likely originated in Mexico. Vanilla tahitensis is mainly grown in the South Pacific. Vanilla pompon is found in the West Indies, Central America and South America. The majority of the vanilla grown commercially is Vanilla planifolia.

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The University of Florida Institute of Food And Agricultural Sciences has had scientists working with a trial group of growers in Homestead on growing vanilla. The Hernando Sun spoke with UF scientist Dr. Xingbo Wu, an Assistant Professor at the Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, about the vanilla trial. The trial will last three years and the results will be released to the public. They are doing lots of breeding work to create something unique and adapted to our environment.

Vanilla does not like full sun, but it does enjoy heat and humidity. The plant develops flowers around February and March. There is a bee that is native to Mexico that pollinates the flowers there, but elsewhere, the flowers must be hand-pollinated. The flowers are only open for a few hours and must be pollinated at this time.

Dr. Wu said if you are interested in growing vanilla, you can get cuttings from a nursery experienced in vanilla propagation. They must have clean plant material because there are viruses that cannot be eliminated. The viral cycle is a very slow process, as the plant with the virus will grow for a couple of years, but eventually, it yellows and then kills the plant.

UF/IFAS has been working with small growers and talking to large commercial growers. If you are interested in growing vanilla, he recommends contacting the local UF/IFAS extension office. They provide training to the people in the office on new crops and the best way to grow them.

Rocco Maglio
Rocco Magliohttps://www.roccomaglio.com
Rocco Maglio is a co-founder of the Hernando Sun. He grew up in Brooksville and graduated from Hernando High. He then worked in technology for starting in the early 1990s. He was fascinated by the potential of the Internet even though at the time there were not graphical browsers. He recently earned a Master of Science in Information Technology with a specialization in Cybersecurity.
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