Vanilla is a spice, obtained from the fruits of an orchid, which is actually called vanilla, and is grown specifically to take its long, strongly aromatic dark pods; in Europe, with the name of vanilla flower, we mean another plant, the Heliotropium arborescens, a small shrub originating from Perщ, whose small flowers of deep purple give off an intense aroma, reminiscent of vanilla, cherries, jam tarts, in short, a delicious fragrance emanating from beautiful flowers.
This small plant is cultivated as a perennial in the hottest areas of the peninsula, and often as an annual in areas with colder winters.
Generally it produces a small shrub, at most 35-55 cm high, with large wrinkled and rough leaves, of dark green color, spent with the lower violet page, almost black; during the warm season it produces at the apex of the branches large corymbs of dark purple flowers, very fragrant; there are hybrid varieties and cultivars, even with white flowers, with the same identical fragrance.
Grow the vanilla flower species
These plants are native to warmer areas of the globe than in Europe, and more humid, but slightly mountainous; therefore they need to be placed in a well-lit location, possibly with at least a few hours of direct sunlight every day, in the first part of the day; during the hottest and sultry hours of summer it is advisable that they be in the shade or in partial shade, to prevent them from being exposed to drought every day. The heliotropes do not like dry and dry climate and soil, therefore we avoid placing them in a stony or sandy soil, we prefer a good rich substrate, which can slightly maintain humidity.
We water very regularly, from April to September, avoiding leaving the soil dry for a long time; if we decide to prepare a garden of heliotrope in the garden, make sure we understand it if possible in the area bathed by the irrigation system, or otherwise in the summer we will have to intervene with great frequency.
If left to dry for a couple of days they generally do not suffer irreparably, except in general when most of the flowers are lost; we avoid stress on plants with regular watering.
Throughout the summer we add water to the watering fertilizer for flowering plants.
The heliotropes fear in frost, although they can withstand short frosts of slight entity, with lows close to -2 / -3 ° C; in areas with a harsh winter climate they are generally grown as annuals, or planted in pots, to be hospitalized in a cold greenhouse during the winter. Even the arrangement on the terrace can suffice, as long as the exposure is always very sunny in this case.
At the end of the season we can collect the seeds, and also practice cuttings from the tips of the branches that have not bloomed, to propagate our plant.
A cosmopolitan genre
The genus Heliotropium has hundreds of species, spread practically all over the globe; European species are often weeds, and produce small white flowers, not particularly decorative.
Many species of vanilla flowers are particularly loved by butterflies, so they are definitely suitable in flower gardens where it is intended to favor the presence of such insects.
Most heliotropes are highly toxic, and some species of butterflies seem to take the scent of heliotrope to perfume also and threaten natural enemies as if they were themselves heliotropic, therefore toxic, and therefore inedible.
The name heliotrope it derives from the Latin, and means in practice sunflower: the floral spikes of heliotrope during the day move to follow the course of the sun, just like it happens to the sunflower (helianthus annuus).
The common English name is turnsole, again indicating this particular behavior of the plant.
In ancient times the heliotrope species present in Europe were used to extract the perfumed oil, and also as dyes and also a kind of food coloring, such as saffron.
Heliotrope, vanilla flower: Vanilla plant
Many people ask themselves what is it vanilla plant or rather which is the plant from which vanilla aromas are extracted and it is not necessary to get confused between the vanilla plant and the plant from which the actual vanilla is extracted. The first is the heliotrope or vanilla flowers and it is the plant that we have described in this study. It smells of vanilla and has a strong smell that reminds this plant very intensely but it is not the plant from which the vanilla powder is extracted.
The vanilla plant, intended as a plant from which the vanilla is obtained, is in fact an orchid, the Vanilla fragrans or vanilla orchid.
From the fruits of this orchid, in fact also called capsules, the vanilla is obtained after a process of crushing and grinding. The two plants are very different because they have very different ecological and physiological characteristics, obviously belonging to different genres.