The world's most expensive spice, vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is an orchid. In its native Central America, the vanilla flower is pollinated by a small bee the morning the flower opens. To ensure seed pods are formed in cultivation, humans must be the pollinator, manually transferring pollen to the stigma of the flower. As vanilla flowers last only one day, the pollination must occur in the morning after the flower first opens. Seed pods formed by pollinating a flower with its own pollen will not contain seeds that will germinate.
Watch the developing flower buds on the vanilla vine. Anticipate the opening of the flower, and always check first thing in the morning. Once the flower opens, it must be pollinated within 12 hours.
Familiarize yourself with the morphology of the vanilla flower by looking at the diagram provided by Heilala Vanilla Company. Take note of the position of the anther and the stigma, as well as the manipulation of these floral parts in the three lower drawings to bring them in contact with each other.
Look at the open flower before you and find the central lip, or labellum. Orchid flowers are highly adapted to attract pollinators, so use the shape of the flower to guide you to the central important flower parts.
Reveal the lip's opening, gently pushing aside any petals that may hide the tubular opening. You will see a floral tube with various smaller floral parts, including the male anther, which supplies the pollen, and the female stigma, which is where the pollen must reach.
Look for the stamen of the flower on the top roof of the floral tube. Position the tip of your needle so that it can reach the stamen and other floral parts in the tube. Be gentle; you do not want to break away any tissues.
Tickle the yellowish anther top, lacing your needle tip or column with pollen
Relocate your pollen-coated needle deeper into the floral tube, searching for the pinkish stigma. You may have to lift or nudge around the rostellum, or greenish finger between the anther and the stigma.
Smear the pollen on the needle onto the stigma. The stigma should be sticky, readily accepting the pollen grains.
Remove the needle from the floral tube. The pollination process is complete. Allow the flower to wither away and continue usual care of the vanilla plant as the seed pod potentially forms and elongates.
Repeat Steps 1 through 9 as needed if there are more flowers on the vanilla plant that open in succession.