I’ll admit, my knowledge of orchids is pretty limited. I did read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief a few years back, but all I really remember about orchids from the book is that they are highly prized for their flowers, yet they are notoriously hard to grow and cultivate. Rare. Delicate. Exquisite. All these ideas come to mind when an orchid is conjured up in my mind. Not “boring-est flavor of ice cream.”
That’s right, folks. Vanilla, which Urban Dictionary defines as “unexciting, normal, conventional,boring” is actually a type of orchid. A rare, delicate, exquisite orchid. Due to the difficulty of pollinating and cultivating said orchids, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. Shocking, I know. But wild vanilla orchids, as the all-knowing and always-correct Wikipedia just informed me, are invested in an extremely mutualistic relationship with a Central American species of Melipona bees. These bees are the only things capable of pollinating the vine that produces the vanilla flower. The only things other than humans, that is. If you really wanted to cultivate your very own vanilla, you could painstakingly swab a small stick onto some orchids and transfer the pollen onto other orchids. One by one. By yourself. In the tropics. All the time.
Of course, growers do this a lot to produce pure vanilla, and this vanilla is available for a (pricey) purchase at supermarkets. Or, you could do what I do, and purchase a bottle of synthetic vanilla extract from Kroger for about a buck, and dream about the day when you can afford the real stuff. Or move to Central America and start your own vanilla orchid enterprise.