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Vanilla africana Lindl.

Journ. Linn. Soc., Bot. 6: 137 (1862).
Vanilla crenulata Rolfe (1896).
Origin and geographic distribution
Vanilla africana is distributed from Guinea eastwards to DR Congo and is also recorded from Principe.
The aerial roots of Vanilla africana are used as strings for a number of stringed instruments such as guitars in Ghana and Gabon and mandolins in DR Congo. In Côte d’Ivoire the heated leaves are pounded with a capsicum pepper and the sap is applied into the ear to cure inflammation. In Liberia boiled leaves are put between 2 mats on which a woman suffering from a painful menstruation has to lay face-down to get relief.
A fleshy, herbaceous, perennial vine, climbing trees by means of long leaf-opposed adventitious roots. Stem long, cylindrical, simple or branched, succulent, dark green. Leaves alternate; petiole short; blade oblong-elliptical to linear-lanceolate, 8–17.5 cm × 1.5–6.5 cm, rounded at the base, apex acute to acuminate, margin entire, fleshy. Inflorescence a short axillary raceme, 2.5–8 cm long, (5–)12–40-flowered. Flower waxy, white, cream or pale green; sepals 2–3 cm long; 2 upper petals like sepals, lower petal wider and 3-lobed, marked pink to purple. Fruit a pendulous, narrowly cylindrical capsule.
The genus Vanilla is pantropical and comprises c. 100 species, most of which in tropical America. Recent work on the genus showed that inter-specific hybridization and possibly polyploidization played a role in its evolution. The taxonomy of the genus still needs research. Vanilla grandifolia Lindl. is known from Principe, Gabon and DR Congo. Its aerial roots are used in Gabon to make fishing nets.
Vanilla africana is found in primary and secondary forests, dense shrubby vegetation and in plantations at altitudes up to 900 m above sea-level.
Genetic resources and breeding
Vanilla africana as well as all other species in the genus are placed in CITES Appendix II and as such the trade is controlled in order to avoid use that could be incompatible with survival of the species.
Vanilla africana does not have the potential to become an important fibre plant.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1997. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 4, Families M–R. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 969 pp.
• Raponda-Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
• Szlachetko, D.L., Sawicka, M. & Kras-Lapinska, M., 2004. Orchidaceae (Volume 1). Flore du Gabon. Volume 36. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. 232 pp.
Other references
• Adjanohoun, E.J. & Aké Assi, L., 1979. Contribution au recensement des plantes médicinales de Côte d’Ivoire. Centre National de Floristique, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. 358 pp.
• Bory, S., Grisoni, M., Duval, M.-F. & Besse, P., 2008. Biodiversity and preservation of vanilla: present state of knowledge. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 55(4): 551–571.
• Geerinck, D., 1974. Notes taxonomiques sur des Orchidacées d”Afrique centrale. Bulletin de la Société Royale de Botanique de Belgique 107: 53–60.
• Szlachetko, D.L & Kowalkowska, A., 2007. Contributions to the orchid flora of Guinea, West Africa. Polish Botanical Studies 25: 3–259.
• Szlachetko, D.L & Olszewski, T.S., 1998. Orchidaceae (Volume 1). Flore du Cameroun. Volume 34. Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. pp. 2–320.
C.H. Bosch
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
E.G. Achigan Dako
PROTA Network Office Africa, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

Correct citation of this article:
Bosch, C.H., 2010. Vanilla africana Lindl. In: Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). Prota 16: Fibres/Plantes à fibres. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.