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Revista Chapingo. Serie horticultura

On-line version ISSN 2007-4034Print version ISSN 1027-152X

Rev. Chapingo Ser.Hortic vol.24 n.2 Chapingo May./Aug. 2018 

Effect of the environmental condition of Vanilla planifolia Jacks. ex Andrews cultivation on phytochemical concentration

Diego Ibarra-Cantún1 

Adriana Delgado-Alvarado1  * 

Braulio Edgar Herrera-Cabrera1 

Ramón Marcos Soto-Hernández2 

Víctor Manuel Salazar-Rojas3 

María Isabel Aguilar4 

1Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Puebla, Programa de Estrategias para el Desarrollo Agrícola Regional. Boulevard Forjadores de Puebla núm. 205, Santiago Momoxpan, San Pedro Cholula, Puebla, C. P. 72760, MÉXICO.

2Colegio de Postgraduados-Campus Montecillo, Programa de Botánica. Carretera México-Texcoco km 36.5, Montecillo, Texcoco, Estado de México, C. P. 56230, MÉXICO.

3Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Facultad de Estudios Superiores Iztacala. Av. de los Barrios núm. 1, Los Reyes Iztacala Tlalnepantla, Estado de México, C. P. 54090, MÉXICO.

4Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Departamento de Farmacia, Facultad de Química. Av. Universidad núm. 3000, Col. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, CU, Ciudad de México, C. P. 04510, MÉXICO.


In vanilla, compounds that exhibit antimicrobial activity are synthesized; however, the variation in phytochemicals present in the plant structures of this species is little known, in relation to the environmental condition and the crop system. The objective of this research was to quantify the variation in phytochemicals in leaf, stem, flower, green fruit and cured fruit from two vanilla chemotypes (QI and QVI) grown in acahual (native and introduced secondary vegetation) and shade mesh systems. Vanilla chemotypes were collected during the flowering period and at harvest in four locations in the Totonacapan region, Mexico. The concentration of total phenolic compounds, total tannins, hydrolysable tannins, condensed tannins, flavonoids, saponins and triterpenes was analyzed in methanolic extracts by spectrophotometric methods. The phytochemicals accumulated at different concentrations in the vanilla plant tissues in relation to the condition of the crop management system and the chemotype. Acahual cultivation favored the concentration of total phenolic compounds, total, hydrolysable and condensed tannins, and total triterpenes, while the values ​​obtained with shade mesh were higher in saponins. QVI accumulated the highest concentration of phytochemicals, with the exception of hydrolysable tannins that showed no statistical difference between chemotypes. The environmental condition affected the phytochemical concentration of phytochemicals in the plant structures of vanilla. Elevation was the environmental variable that most impacted the accumulation of phytochemicals, since it showed an inverse effect on the concentration of total triterpenes, total tannins and condensed tannins.

Keywords: acahual; shade mesh; secondary metabolites; chemotypes; vanilla


En la vainilla se sintetizan compuestos que presentan actividad antimicrobiana; no obstante, la variación de fitoquímicos presentes en las estructuras vegetales de esta especie es poco conocida, en relación con la condición ambiental y el sistema de cultivo. El objetivo de esta investigación fue cuantificar la variación de fitoquímicos en hoja, tallo, flor, fruto verde y fruto beneficiado de dos quimiotipos (QI y QVI) de vainilla cultivados en acahual (vegetación secundaria nativa e introducida) y malla sombra. Los quimiotipos de vainilla se recolectaron durante el periodo de floración y a la cosecha en cuatro localidades de la región del Totonacapan, México. La concentración de compuestos fenólicos totales, taninos totales, taninos hidrolizables, taninos condesados, flavonoides, saponinas y triterpenos se analizó en extractos metanólicos por métodos espectrofotométricos. Los fitoquímicos se acumularon a diferente concentración en los tejidos de la planta de vainilla en relación con la condición del sistema de manejo de cultivo y del quimiotipo. El cultivo en acahual favoreció la concentración de compuestos fenólicos totales, taninos totales, hidrolizables y condensados, así como de triterpenos totales; mientras que los valores obtenidos con malla sombra fueron mayores en saponinas. El QVI acumuló la concentración mayor de fitoquímicos, con excepción de los taninos hidrolizables que no mostraron diferencia estadística entre quimiotipos. La condición ambiental afectó la concentración de fitoquímicos en las estructuras vegetales de la vainilla. La altitud fue la variable ambiental que más impactó en la acumulación de fitoquímicos, ya que mostró un efecto inverso en la concentración de triterpenos totales, taninos totales y taninos condensados.

Palabras clave: acahual; malla sombra; metabolitos secundarios; quimiotipos; vainilla


Since prehispanic times, vanilla has been used in traditional medicine for its various healing properties, as well as for being a preservative, flavoring and aromatic agent in various foods (Tamura, Hata, & Chida, 2010). Vanilla is attributed with anticarcinogenic (Ferguson, 1994), antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory (Bythrow, 2005), antimicrobial (Shanmugavalli, Umashankar, & Raheem, 2009), and high antioxidant capacity properties (Tai, Sawano, Yazama, & Ito, 2011), among others. However, studies on these properties in vanilla are mainly restricted to the fruit (pod) and the extract of cured vanilla, where the presence of tannins, phenolic acids and flavonoids, among other components, have been reported (Gurnani, Kapoor, Mehta, Gupta, & Mehta, 2014). Research on phytochemical contents in plant structures (leaves and stems) is limited but could be of biological interest as indicated by Palama, Fock, Choi, Verpoorte, and Kodia (2010), due to the presence of bioactive compounds in the vanilla.

Different vanilla crop management systems are used within the Totonacapan region of Mexico; one of them is the so-called acahual (native and introduced secondary vegetation) system, where the vanilla plants are established in host trees of citrus (Citrus sinensis), pichoco (Erythrina sp.) and cocuite (Gliricidia sepium), among others. This agroforestry arrangement provides between 50 and 70 % shade and the ventilation required by the crop for its optimal development. The other system is shade mesh (50 to 80 % shade), which provides intensive production, in conjunction with irrigation and application of agrochemicals; in this case, artificial (concrete post) or live hosts are used (Barrera-Rodríguez, Jaramillo-Villanueva, Escobedo-Garrido, & Herrera-Cabrera, 2011).

In V. planifolia, six chemotypes or subpopulations with variations in the composition and typical concentration of the major secondary metabolites (vanillin, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, vanillic acid and p-hydroxybenzoic acid) (Salazar-Rojas et al., 2012) that define the commercial quality of the aroma of vanilla have been detected (Ranadive, 1992). These chemotypes are defined as local phytochemical adaptations of a species, genetically controlled and related to the interaction with their habitat, in addition to having zero or minimal modifications in their morphology and physiology (Gross et al., 2009). These are cultivated in both acahual and shade mesh systems in the Totonacapan region.

Under the hypothesis that the environmental condition in the vanilla crop management system determines the presence and content of phytochemical components in the different plant structures of the species, the aim of this research was to quantify the variation in total phenolic compounds, total tannins, hydrolysable tannins, condensed tannins, flavonoids, saponins and total triterpenes, in leaf, stem, flower, fruit (green and cured) of two chemotypes (QI and QVI) of vanilla grown in acahual and shade mesh systems in the Totonacapan region of Mexico.

Materials and methods

Plant material

The plants used corresponded to two V. planifolia chemotypes (QI and QVI) obtained from different genotypes (Genotype VI and Genotype III, respectively) (Herrera-Cabrera, Hernández-Ruíz, & Delgado-Alvarado, 2016), which were collected in acahual and shade mesh systems at locations within the Totonacapan region of Mexico (Table 1). During the flowering period (from April to May 2013), one-meter-long cuttings were collected from the base to the tip to obtain leaves, stems and flowers. In order to obtain fruits with the same state of maturity, the flowers of the two chemotypes were manually pollinated and marked. The fruits were harvested 32 weeks after pollination and were subjected in a uniform way to a traditional curing process (Xochipa-Morante, Delgado-Alvarado, Herrera-Cabrera, Escobedo-Garrido, & Arévalo-Galarza, 2016).

Table 1 Location of sites where the Vanilla planifolia collections were made in different management systems in the Totonacapan region, Mexico. 

Management system Chemotype/Genotype Community, municipality, state Elevation (masl) AT 1 (°C) RH (%) IR (%) Climate*
Acahual QI / GVI Finca 20 Soles, Papantla, Veracruz. 20° 25’ 38.91’’ NL, 97° 18’ 44.47’’ WL 180 23.5 75 79 Aw1(x’) Warm sub-humid, average annual temperature greater than 22 °C and temperature of the coldest month greater than 18 °C. Precipitation of the driest month less than 60 mm; summer rains with winter rain percentage greater than 10.2 % of the annual total.
QVI / GIII 1° Mayo, Papantla, Veracruz. 20° 17’ 45.18’’ NL, 97° 15’ 51.96’’ WL 100 27.5 72 60
Shade mesh QI / GVI Pantepec, Puebla. 20° 30’ 17.63’’ NL, 97° 53’ 22.70’’ WL 290 29.0 66 30 Am(f) Warm humid, average annual temperature greater than 22 °C and temperature of the coldest month greater than 18 °C. Precipitation of the driest month less than 60 mm; summer rains with winter rain percentage greater than 10.2 % of the annual total.
QVI / GIII Puntilla Aldama, San Rafael, Veracruz. 20° 14’ 4.49’’ NL, 96° 54’ 13.75’’ WL 12 22.5 90 45

1AT: average temperature; RH: relative humidity; IR: intercepted radiation. *Source: Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO, 2012).

Preparation of extracts for quantification

Total phenolic compounds, total tannins, hydrolysable tannins, condensed tannins and flavonoids: Extracts from each fresh tissue (leaf, stem, flower, green fruit and cured fruit) were prepared in methanol at a concentration of 50 mg·mL-1. The samples were placed in an ultrasonic bath (AutoScience AS5150B) for 30 min; subsequently, the extracts were filtered and stored in glass vials at -20 °C until analysis.

Saponins: Five 5 mL of distilled water were added to 1 g of fresh sample of each tissue and taken to an ultrasonic bath (AutoScience AS5150B) for a period of 20 min at 10-min intervals.

Total triterpenes: Five mL of 70 % ethanol (v/v) were added to 1 g of fresh sample and left to macerate for 10 h. The extract was centrifuged at 3,344 g for 5 min and the supernatant was evaporated in a rotaevaporator (Heidolph, Laborota 4000); subsequently, the plant residue was washed four times with butanol:water (1:1), where the aqueous phase was discarded and the organic one was evaporated in a rotaevaporator. Ethyl ether was added to the residue and kept at 4 °C for 12 h. Finally, the residue was dried and stored at -20 °C for further analysis.

Prior to quantification, the moisture content of all tissues was determined in a thermobalance (Ohaus MB45) to express the concentration of secondary metabolites based on dry matter (DM).

Quantification of phytochemicals

Total phenolic compounds: The analysis was carried out using the method described by Singleton and Rossi (1965), with some modifications. First, 250 μL of 50 % Folin-Ciocalteu reagent (v/v) were added to 50 μL of the extract with methanol and then the mixture was left to stand in the dark for 8 min; subsequently, 1.25 mL of 5 % sodium carbonate (v/v) were added and it was again left to stand for 30 min in the dark at room temperature. The absorbance reading of the mixture was performed at 725 nm in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300, Thermo Scientific). The results were expressed in mg equivalents of tannic acid per g of DM, for which a standard curve (y = 2.0364x - 0.0016, R² = 0.9942) was obtained with tannic acid (Sigma Aldrich).

Total tannins: They were determined using the method described by Makkar, Bluemmel, Borowy, and Becker (1993). Two hundred mg of PVPP (Polyvinylpyrrolidone), 2 mL of methanolic extract and 2 mL of distilled water were placed in a test tube previously lined with aluminum foil. The mixture was vortexed and left to stand for 15 min in the dark at 4 °C. Subsequently, it was again stirred and filtered, and an aliquot of 150 μL was taken and brought to 1 mL with distilled water. Next, 50 μL of this extract were taken, 450 μL of distilled water and 250 μL of 50 % Folin-Ciocalteu reagent (v/v) were added, and it was stirred and left to rest for 8 min, after which 1.25 mL of 5 % Na2CO3 (v/v) were added. It was again stirred and left to stand under dark conditions at room temperature for 30 min. Finally, the absorbance reading was performed at 725 nm in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300, Thermo Scientific). The results were expressed in mg of tannic acid (Sigma Aldrich) per g of DM, based on the equation provided by the standard curve (y = 2.0977x - 0.0241, R² = 0.9919).

Condensed tannins (proanthocyanidins): It was carried out according to the method proposed by Porter, Hrstich, and Chan (1986), with some modifications. Three mL of 1-butanol-HCl and 100 μL of 2 % ferric chloride (w/v) in 2 N HCl were added to 500 μL of the methanolic extract. The solution was placed in a water bath at 80 °C for 15 min. Finally, the absorbance at 550 nm was recorded in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300, Thermo Scientific). The concentration of condensed tannins was calculated according to the following equation and the result was expressed in mg. g-1 DM:

Condensed tannins = A550 nm x 78.26 x Dilution factor% DM

where A is the absorbance at 550 nm, % DM the percentage of dry matter and 78.26 the correction factor.

Hydrolysable tannins: The content of hydrolysable tannins was calculated by means of the difference between total tannins and condensed tannins. The results were expressed in mg·g-1 DM (García-Ferrer, Bolaños-Aguilar, Lagunes-Espinoza, Ramos-Juárez, & Osorio-Arce, 2016).

Total flavonoids: They were determined using the methodology proposed by Chang, Yang, Wen, and Chern (2002), with some modifications. First, 500 μL of the extract with methanol, 1.5 mL of 80 % ethanol (v/v), 100 μL of 20 % aluminum chloride hexahydrate solution (w/v), 100 μL of 1 M potassium acetate, and 2.8 mL of distilled water were placed in a test tube. The mixture was stirred and incubated for 30 min at room temperature. The absorbance reading was performed at 415 nm in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300 Thermo Scientific). The results were expressed in mg equivalents of quercetin (Sigma Aldrich) per g of DM, from the equation obtained from the standard curve prepared with quercetin (y = 6.0986x - 0.0004, R² = 0.9952).

Saponins: They were determined by the sulfuric acid-vanillin method described by Hiai, Oura, and Nakajima (1976). Five μL of the extract, 95 μL of water, 1 mL of concentrated sulfuric acid and 100 μL of a fresh solution of 8 % vanillin (w/v) in ethanol were mixed in a test tube. Subsequently, the mixture was incubated at 60 °C for 20 min and then placed in an ice bath. The absorbance was read at 544 nm in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300, Thermo Scientific). As a reference, a standard curve (y = 0.0033x + 0.0786, R² = 0.9919) was obtained with quillaja saponin (Sigma Aldrich). The results were expressed in mg·g-1 DM.

Total triterpenes: The colorimetric method with vanillin-acetic acid described by Fan and He (2006) was used, with some modifications. First, 100 μL of 5 % vanillin (w/v) and 400 μL of perchloric acid were added to 0.5 mg of extract; the mixture was kept at 60 °C for 15 min. The tubes were left to cool to room temperature and 2.5 mL of acetic acid were added to them. The absorbance was obtained at 550 nm in a UV-Vis spectrophotometer (Evolution 300 Thermo Scientific). The results were expressed in mg·g-1 DM from a standard curve (y = 0.0125x - 0.0274, R² = 0.9949) prepared with oleanolic acid (Sigma Aldrich).

Statistical analysis

The effect of plant structure, chemotype and management system was analyzed as a source of variation on the concentration of phytochemicals in V. planifolia. Twenty treatments with nine replicates of different plants were evaluated, with a total of 180 samples. The experimental design used was a factorial arrangement with three factors (two management systems, two chemotypes and five plant structures) (Statistical Analysis System [SAS], 2002) and the comparison of means for each source of variation was performed using Tukey’s test (SAS, 2002). In addition, in order to know the association between environmental and phytochemical (content and type) variables, a canonical correlation analysis was performed according to the PROC CANCORR procedure (SAS, 2002).

Results and discussion

The average values obtained in the concentration of phytochemicals by management system, chemotype and plant structure showed high statistical significance (P ≤ 0.0001), with the exception of flavonoids in the management system (Table 2). The total phenolic compounds, total tannins, flavonoids, saponins and triterpenes showed coefficients of variation between 0.9 and 17.2 %, while the condensed and hydrolysable tannins were between 25.9 and 27.8 %, respectively. The above indicates consistency in the information with the statistical model used in biological systems, which allows having coefficients of variation greater than 20 %.

Table 2 Means, coefficients of variation and mean squares of secondary metabolites of Vanilla planifolia in the Totonacapan region, Mexico.  

Phytochemical Mean (mg·g -1 DM 1 ) CV (%) Mean squares
Management system Chemotype Plant structure Error
Total phenolic compounds 14.70 14.204 0.337*** 2.862*** 3.285*** 0.034
Total tannins 3.06 17.283 0.094*** 0.054*** 0.040*** 0.002
Hydrolysable tannins 1.85 27.806 0.046*** 0.017*** 0.015*** 0.033
Condensed tannins 1.21 25.914 0.024*** 0.057*** 0.052*** 0.0009
Flavonoids 7.45 16.502 0.008ns 0.601*** 0.0662*** 0.015
Saponins 1.04 9.678 0.017*** 0.087*** 0.100*** 0.0001
Total triterpenes 20.13 0.931 4.523*** 4.145*** 2.980*** 0.0003

1DM: dry matter; CV: coefficient of variation; ***: P ≤ 0.0001; ns: not significant.

Effect of the management system on phytochemicals

Within the management system factor, all phytochemicals showed significant statistical difference (P ≤ 0.05) in their concentration, except for flavonoids that showed no variation between management systems (Table 3). In the acahual system, with 60-70 % intercepted radiation, the vanilla tissues had a higher concentration of total phenolic compounds, total tannins, hydrolysable tannins, condensed tannins and total triterpenes, while in shade mesh, with 30-45 % intercepted radiation, the concentration was only higher in saponins (Table 3), possibly because this condition favors the synthesis of steroidal saponins that are found almost exclusively in monocotyledonous plants (Sparg, Light, & van Staden, 2004), like vanilla. The difference in the concentration of phytochemicals between management systems could be due to particular environmental characteristics, such as temperature, relative humidity, elevation and luminosity (intercepted); even this last factor in some epiphytic species has a great impact on the production of phytochemicals (Cach-Pérez, Andrade, & Reyes-García, 2014).

Table 3 Average amount of phytochemicals in the management system, chemotype and plant tissue of Vanilla planifolia J. in the Totonacapan region, Mexico.  

Factors Total phenolic compounds Total tannins Hydrolysable tannins Condensed tannins Flavonoids Saponins Total triterpenes
(mg·g -1 DM)
Management system
Acahual 15.93 az 3.41 a 2.06 a 1.34 a 7.37 a 0.90 b 21.57 a
Shade mesh 13.48 b 2.72 b 1.65 b 1.07 b 7.53 a 1.19 a 18.69 b
LSD 0.84 0.21 0.18 0.14 0.58 0.12 0.87
QI 13.89 b 2.71 b 1.86 a 0.85 b 6.74 b 0.97 b 16.42 b
QVI 15.42 a 3.42 a 1.85 a 1.56 a 8.16 a 1.12 a 23.84 a
LSD 0.94 0.21 0.18 0.14 0.58 0.12 0.87
Plant tissue              
Leaf 10.01 c 3.84 a 1.63 bc 2.21 a 7.16 bc 0.52 c 14.86 d
Stem 9.03 c 3.20 b 1.92 ab 1.28 b 4.51 d 0.33 c 16.68 cd
Flower 9.51 c 2.77 bc 1.47 c 1.29 b 6.46 c 0.05 d 17.43 c
Green fruit 21.50 b 3.05 b 2.01 ab 1.04 b 11.05 a 2.34 a 22.91 b
Cured fruit 23.47 a 2.46 c 2.25 a 0.21 c 8.05 b 1.98 b 28.77 a
LSD 1.88 0.46 0.4 0.32 1.29 0.27 1.94

zMeans with the same letters within each column do not differ statistically (Tukey, P ≤ 0.05). LSD: least significant difference.

Although soil nutrient content is a critical factor in the physiological responses of most plants, in species of hemiepiphytic habits (as in vanilla) this is not the case, since this habit allows alternating the functioning of aerial roots and epiphytic habits when there is a nutritional or hydric stress factor, both temporal and spatial. In addition, a large number of species of the family Orchidaceae (V. planifolia) have mycorrhizae in their nutrition system that cushion changes in mineral disposition (Canestraro, Mora, & Watkis, 2014). Therefore, the soil as such only serves the host of the vanilla plants, which suggests that it had little influence on the production of phytochemicals.

Effect of the chemotype on phytochemicals

The results of this study showed that even though the plant structures of both chemotypes had the same phytochemicals, the QVI chemotype showed a greater concentration of total phenolic compounds, total tannins, flavonoids, saponins and, especially, condensed tannins and total triterpenes, which on average had 84 and 45 % higher concentration levels compared to the QI chemotype (Table 3). In this regard, Herrera-Cabrera, Salazar-Rojas, Delgado-Alvarado, Campos-Contreras, and Cervantes-Vargas (2012) mention that the QVI chemotype has been one of the vanilla germplasm clones most cultivated and used by farmers of the Totonacapan region, while the QI chemotype has been little cultivated and is not of commercial interest.

The chemo-typological variation that exists in vanilla germplasm originated through a process of human selection, based on the aroma and uses that the Totonac producers have given it for more than 250 years (Delgado-Alvarado, Salazar-Rojas, & Herrera-Cabrera, 2014). The use of the QVI chemotype by farmers suggests that, in this material, the synthesis of secondary metabolites that allow the survival of the plant in natural environments and under cultivation is favored. This indicates that this chemotype is more sensitive to stress conditions, so it develops a greater defense mechanism than the QI chemotype.

The adaptive process in relation to secondary metabolites has been observed as a product of coevolution with the enemies of plants (Moore, Andrew, Külheim, & Foley, 2014). Although targeted, intense and permanent selection would force the quantitative variation of phytochemicals to deteriorate, many other selective forces intervene in these compounds, such as herbivores (Lankau, 2007), pathogens, competitors (Kliebenstein, Rowe, & Denby, 2005) and abiotic stresses (Burchard, Bilger, & Weissenböck, 2000).

Effect of plant tissue on phytochemicals

Within plant species, there is a wide variation in the concentration of phytochemicals in tissues depending on the structure of the plant (Tahvanainen, Niemelä, & Henttonen, 1991), which coincides with this study, where the concentration of metabolites was different in relation to the type of plant structure. For example, the leaf had the highest concentration of total tannins (3.84 mg·g-1 DM) and condensed tannins (2.21 mg·g-1 DM), while the cured fruits had the lowest concentration of these compounds (Table 3). Generally, these metabolites are found at high concentrations in leaves and stems because they serve as a defense against herbivores, since they have an astringent flavor that causes adverse effects (Provenza et al., 1990).

It was noteworthy that the hydrolysable tannins had the highest value in cured fruits (2.25 mg·g-1 DM), although it did not differ statistically from those obtained in stem and green fruit (Table 3). It should be noted that the concentration of hydrolysable tannins was obtained by difference, and because it is a gravimetric method it could influence the observed trend (Makkar, 2003).

Although it has been reported that the most abundant tannins in plant tissues are the condensate ones, recently a high concentration of hydrolysable tannins was reported in fruits such as raspberry (3.26 mg·g-1), blueberry (2.7 mg·g-1) and pomegranate (1.77 mg·g-1), among others (Smeriglio, Barreca, Belloco, & Trombetta, 2017). The amount of condensed tannins in vanilla tissues (stems, green fruits and cured ones) is valuable and important for their health effects (Olivas-Aguirre et al., 2015).

In green fruits, the highest amount of flavonoids (11.05 mg·g-1 DM) was detected (Table 3). In orchid species such as Phalaenopsis spp., the concentration of flavonoids ranges from 1.7 (root) to 4.98 mg·g-1 (leaf) (Minh et al., 2016), which reveals that vanilla fruits have a significant amount of this phytochemical. However, in cured fruits the concentration of flavonoids was lower, since they are possibly thermosensitive and during curing they degrade (Liu, Wang, & Cai, 2015).

The highest concentration of saponins (2.34 mg·g-1 DM) was also found in green fruits. Variations in the distribution, composition and amount of saponins in the plant may be due to the different needs they have to protect themselves. In Phytolacca dodecandra and Dioscorea pseudojaponica, during the development of the fruits and tubers, the maximum accumulation of saponins was observed, presumably to avoid loss and thus ensure the maturation of the seeds and the protection of the reproductive organs (Lin, Chen, Liu, & Yang, 2009; Ndamba, Lemmich, & Mølgaard, 1993). However, in some species the production of saponins was in response to biotic (herbivory or pathogen attack) or abiotic (moisture, light, lack of nutrients and temperature) stress (De Costa, Yendo, Fleck, Gosmann, & Fett-Neto, 2013).

Although in green fruits a concentration greater than 20 mg·g-1 DM of total phenolic compounds and total triterpenes was detected, in cured fruit they were higher (23.47 mg. g-1 and 28.77 mg. g-1, respectively) (Table 3). This is because during fruit curing a complex mixture originated due to the hydrolysis of the precursors (non-volatile glycosylated forms) of the aroma through the activity of the enzyme D-β-glucosidase, which converts them to their volatile forms (Odoux, 2000; Ranadive, 1992). In this way, in addition to vanillin (which is the most abundant compound, 10 to 20 mg. g-1), more than 200 components are produced, such as shikimate pathway derivatives, terpenes, furan derivatives, esters, aromatic acids, ketones, phenols, aldehydes, carbonyls and alcohols (Sinha, Sharma, & Sharma, 2008), which provide the flavor and aroma of vanilla.

Relationship between environmental and phytochemical variables

The analysis of canonical correlations identified a high correlation (0.91 and r2 = 0.83) between the environmental parameters and the phytochemical content in each management system. The most significant correlations were observed between elevation and the content of total triterpenes (-0.34218***), total tannins (0.34036***) and condensed tannins (-0.4246***), as well as between relative humidity and condensed tannins (0.29691***). The variables relative humidity and intercepted radiation did not show a significant correlation with the production of total phenolic compounds, saponins and total triterpenes (Table 4).

Table 4 Matrix of correlation between phytochemical compounds and environmental variables in the cultivation of Vanilla planifolia in the Totonacapan region, Mexico. 

Compounds Elevation (masl) Temperature (°C) Relative Humidity (%) Intercepted Radiation (%)
Total phenolic compounds -0.07604ns 0.05792ns 0.02879ns -0.09986ns
Total tannins -0.34036*** -0.0844ns 0.11794ns 0.2861**
Hydrolysable tannins 0.07534ns 0.16938* -0.22449** 0.1876*
Condensed tannins -0.4246*** -0.22246** 0.29691*** 0.1744*
Flavonoids -0.22347* -0.07846ns 0.17005* -0.02598ns
Saponins -0.04007ns 0.02536ns 0.05208ns -0.14604ns
Total triterpenes -0.34218*** 0.13037ns 0.05572ns 0.02489ns

Canonical correlation: 0.91 and r2 = 0.83. ***: P < 0.001 highly significant; **: P < 0.01 very significant; *: P < 0.05 significant; ns: not significant.

Figure 1 shows that the first two factors of the canonical correlation analysis explained 95.76 % of the total variance. In addition, it shows the structural correlation between environmental and phytochemical variables, where it was distinguished that at higher elevations (Ele) there is a lower content of total and condensed tannins, flavonoids and triterpenes.

Figure 1 Graphical representation of the structural correlation coefficients of the first two factors in the interaction of environmental () and phytochemical () variables of Vanilla planifolia tissues. Elevation (Ele), temperature (Temp), relative humidity (RH), intercepted radiation (IR), total phenolic compounds (TPC), total tannins (TT), hydrolysable tannins (HT), condensed tannins (CT), flavonoids (Flav), saponins (Sap) and total triterpenes (Terp). 


The environmental condition of the management system affected the concentration of the phytochemicals evaluated, except for the flavonoids. The acahual system favored the accumulation of total phenolic compounds, total, hydrolysable and condensed tannins, and total triterpenes, while with shade mesh a higher concentration of saponins was obtained. The QVI chemotype showed a greater accumulation of total phenolic compounds, total and condensed tannins, flavonoids, saponins and total triterpenes, with respect to the QI chemotype.

On the other hand, elevation was the environmental condition that had the greatest impact on the accumulation of metabolites in the plant structures of the vanilla, since it inversely affected the concentration of triterpenes, and total and condensed tannins, followed by intercepted radiation and relative humidity. The cured fruit showed the highest accumulation of total phenolic compounds, hydrolysable tannins and triterpenes, while leaf, stem, flower and green fruit had the highest values ​​of total and condensed tannins. The flavonoids and saponins had their highest concentration in green fruits, followed by cured fruits.


The authors thank the SAGARPA-CONACYT fund for the economic support received through project 2012-04-190442 entitled "Applied research strategy for the strengthening, innovation and competitiveness of vanilla in Mexico" (SP 14).


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Received: August 26, 2017; Accepted: March 23, 2018

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