Fusarium, an opportunistic root fungus, was first noted in 1898 in S.J. Galbraith’s “Vanilla Culture as Practiced in the Seychelles Islands.” At the time, the United States sought to break the vanilla monopolies of Madagascar and Mexico by cultivating the temperamental orchid in Puerto Rico. This proved unsuccessful. While Galbraith’s report described vanilla as a robust plant with remarkable yields per acre, he also discovered that any breakout of disease—particularly Fusarium—would lead to the rapid and complete destruction of all vines. One hundred and twelve years later, the threat remains as present as ever.
“That’s what people today don’t understand about Fusarium,” says Hank Kaestner, a consultant with Dammann and Co. and presenter at the recent Vanilla 2009 event in Jamesburg, New Jersey. “Once Fusarium gets into a plantation, it’s very difficult to eradicate. It moves very quickly to eliminate the crop.”