Diagram of Photosynthesis. [Created by Daniel Mayer] 
Like most members of the kingdom Plantae, Vanilla planifolia is a photoautotroph, so it spends most of its life synthesizing its food (in the form of sugars) from sunlight via the metabolic pathway: photosynthesis.   In the cells making up vanilla’s leaves are many tiny organelles vital to this complex process, called chloroplasts.  These chloroplasts collect specific wavelengths of light from sunlight and through a series of steps, are able to convert CO2 and H2O to the familiar starch, glucose or C6H12O6.

Want to learn more about photosynthesis?  Check out this page for a eye-opening multimedia experience!

Vanilla pods.  [Taken by Wikipedia user B.Navez]

Contrary to what many may think, most plants don't spend their full lives as photoautotrophs.  The seeds of Vanilla planifolia, and other flowering plants are actually heterotrophs until exposed to sunlight.  The plant embryo feeds on nutrients within the seed, or 'endosperm', which is created through the double-fertilization process  (though Vanilla planifolia, as a species, typically has very little endosperm.)

As a vascular plant, Vanilla utilizes two specific tissues: xylem, and phloem, to transport important materials.  Xylem is responsible for transporting water from the roots of the plant where it’s absorbed, to the tips of the leave.  Phloem, in contrast, transports any of the photosynthetic product that is not being used for energy for the cell to the roots, for storage.  So that excess glucose created through photosynthesis goes from the chloroplasts in the leaves, to the roots to be saved for later.


Next, let's examine the life and reproductive cycles of vanilla.
  Vanilla planifolia -- Life History & Reproduction (>>NEXT PAGE>>) | Back to Home