Vanilla planifolia is a species of vanilla orchid. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and is one of the main sources for flavouring, due to its high vanillin content. Common names are flat-leaved vanilla, Tahitian, and West Indian vanilla.
Vanilla planifolia, commonly called vanilla, is a terrestrial or epiphytic orchid vine that is native to Mexico. In its native habitat, it may grow to as much as 50-75' tall over time, but as an indoor plant it grows much shorter. Natural vanilla flavor comes from the cured seed pods of this orchid. It was known to the Aztecs for its flavoring qualities (vanilla seed pods), but was unknown to the rest of the world until 1520 when Cortez brought plants from Mexico to Spain. Over the next 300 years, no one outside of Mexico was able to get this orchid to fruit. Finally it was first discovered in 1836 that a tiny bee (the Melipone) which lives in Mexico was the sole pollinator of this plant. Unfortunately, this bee does not survive outside of Mexico, hence plant flowers growing outside of Mexico must be pollinated by hand.