The Herbarium of Endangerment: Vanilla planifolia

By Dr. Kathleen Cruz Gutierrez, Liz Orton

Jun 30 2022

One may be most familiar with vanilla’s taste and aroma. The fruit of this orchid species has had long importance in Mesoamerican life-worlds before becoming a global commodity now facing extinction. The specimen you see here of “vanilla from Mexico,” collected in the early 1880s, was introduced and grown in cultivation on the island of Guadeloupe.

While we might have a sense of the different names of what English-speakers may call “vanilla,” derived from the Spanish word for “pod” (vaina),  these names vary depending on contexts, people, and time. Names like tlixóchitl and izbic or sisbik-k’aax are just a sampling of the nomenclatural webs that tie back to the plant’s ceremonial and culinary significance in Aztec and Maya histories.

Habitat loss, increasing climate temperature, and unfettered extraction are just a few of the reasons this plant may no longer grow among us.