Everglades Plant Spotlight: The Ghost Orchid

ghost orchidThe Ghost Orchid is one of the Everglades’ most rare and endangered plants.

Known in the scientific world as Dendrophylax lindenii, the Ghost Orchid is prized for its delicate, white flower petals. It gets its name from the nocturnal movement of the flower, which resembles a ghost.

Ghost Orchids enjoy conservation protection in Florida, and it’s illegal to tamper with or collect them. As of December 2016, it was believed that only about 2,000 plants remained in the wild. Poaching, as well as human development, continues to threaten its existence.

The Ghost Orchid can be found locally in Big Cypress National Preserve, along with more than 30 other types of orchids.

Visually, the plant appears as a leafless, tangled mass of green roots hugging the trunk of a host tree. It’s often found in deep swamps of cypress, pond apple, and palm trees, and can be distinguished from other orchid varieties by thin white markings on its root system.

The Ghost Orchid requires very specific environmental conditions to grow: high humidity, mild temperatures, shade, and the presence of mycorrhizal fungi. It can also be found in the Bahamas and Cuba, but thrives under a different set of conditions than those in southern Florida.

The Ghost Orchid’s flower blooms in June and July, and it’s pollinated by the giant sphinx moth, which typically visits more than one plant in its nightly travels. The sphinx moth’s tongue easily reaches the plant’s pollen; other insects have difficulty getting to it.

The popularity of Ghost Orchids grew after Susan Orlean’s 1998 book, “The Orchid Thief,” which was later turned into the 2002 film, “Adaptation.” Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville recently developed a way to culture the seeds, grow the plants in greenhouses, and re-introduce them into the wild.

Want to go hunting for Ghost Orchids? Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours in Everglades City, Florida, can show you many of the flora and fauna found in the Everglades. To book a tour, visit our website or call 800-368-0065.

Everglades Orchids: Beauty in the Wetland

Ghost OrchidOrchids are quite an exotic flower, so it’s no surprise that they can be found in one of the most mystical places in the world: The Everglades. Seeing these Everglades orchids is like finding beauty in an unexpected place, since the area widely known for its green and swampy colorings. According to the National Park Service, the diversity of orchids in the Everglades is higher than any other National Park in the United States.

Orchids have the largest variety within their family of flowers, and they all vary in color and size. They are also a really old species of plant; there are fossils of orchids and orchid pollen showing that they have existed on the planet for around 100 million years.  It is believed that many of the Everglades orchids originated from the West Indies from winds blowing seeds.

Types Everglades Orchids

Thirty-nine orchid species live in the Everglades. All of them have different months in which they bloom. Some types include: grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus), longclaw orchid (Eltroplectis calcarata), butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis), clamshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata var. triandra) and the ghost orchid (Polyriihiza lindenii).

The longclaw orchid is a tropical species; it is very small and its flower is white in color with green and brown-spotted leaves. It is found often alongside streams. The butterfly orchid sprouts a bunch of small, yellow-petal flowers off from grass-like, green leaves; they are often found in trees. The grass pink orchid has small flower that range in color from white to pink or a mix of both with a few green grass-like leaves on each plant; each plant can have up to 10 flowers on it. The clamshell orchid has a dark-colored flower with white and yellow colors in the inside of flower. Underneath the flower, thin, green tepals hang down. The ghost orchid is a leafless orchid with one, somewhat large white flower.

Orchid Habitats

Where can these colorful orchids be found? Being a warm and humid climate, many of the orchid species live on trees in the Everglades. These orchids are considered to be epiphytic plants that take nutrients from the air, rain and other debris around it; they do not harm the plant they are growing on. Orchids can be found on the trunks of pop ash, live oak, royal palm, cypress pond apple trees, and wet prairies and roadsides.

Saving the Orchids

Due to climate change and human interference, the Everglades have been suffering. Rising sea levels, years of dredging, population increases and development have compromised the environment and size of the Everglades.  Not only is their habitat decreasing in size, but Everglades orchids have been threatened by visitors in the park for quite some time. For many years, collectors and tourists would pick the plants for a collection or to sell, according to the National Park Service. The orchids were overharvested. The Park Service says it is believed at least three orchid species became extinct within the park due to over picking; rare species were often chosen to bring home for their value. Now, the collection of orchids, and all plant and wildlife, in the Everglades is prohibited. Several biologists have made it their mission now to save endangered orchids, like the cigar orchid. By bringing seeds of the plant to a greenhouse and transporting plants, biologists are helping restore the in the wetland area.

Seeing the Everglades Orchids

For a chance at spotting some of rare and stunning Everglades orchids, an airboat tour is a great way to travel around different plant life that the orchids can be growing on. The airboats give people the chance to enter parts of the Everglades not accessibly by foot. To check out the orchids and hundreds of other plants in the Everglades, book an airboat ride today!

The Ghost Orchid: Florida’s Most Elusive Resident

Ghost OrchidThe ghost orchid, also known by its Latin name of dendrophylax lindenii, is often talked about but rarely seen, and is today considered to be one of the rarest flowers in the United States, if not the entire world. First discovered in 1844, the elusive flower has only been spotted in three places: Cuba, the Bahamas, and the Florida Everglades.

Blooming between June and late August, the ghost orchid is characterized by its white flowers which are roughly 3-4cm wide and 7-9cm long, with roots that blend in so well with the surrounding trees that the flowers sometimes almost appear to be floating in midair, hence their name of “ghost orchid.” A typical ghost orchid will sprout 1-10 flowers for each bloom, flowers which are known to give off a fruity, apple-like scent. What distinguishes the ghost orchid from other white orchids is the two long tendrils that extend from the bottom petal, resembling legs and earning the ghost orchid the nickname of “white frog orchid.”

Although the ghost orchid was first spotted in Cuba, it is now believed to be extinct everywhere except for Florida. Current estimates state that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 still living in the wild, and of those, only 5-10% actually bloom each year. Of those small percentage which bloom, approximately less than 10% are actually pollinated by the only insect capable of pollinating them, the giant sphinx moth, so it’s easy to see why this beautiful plant struggles so hard to survive.

Previous to the 1980’s, the ghost orchid was not quite so rare and not nearly as much of a mystery as it is today. While severe freezes, the logging industry, and construction of certain canal systems in South Florida are largely responsible for the heavy decrease in numbers for the ghost orchid, it is actually poaching from humans that has caused the most damage. Today, the ghost orchid is considered a protected species, and its destruction or removal is highly illegal.

Members of the public are very rarely given the opportunity to see a ghost orchid in bloom, and of those who are, even fewer consider a trek through waist-deep, alligator-infested waters to be worth it. In addition, the locations of most ghost orchids are kept top secret, and when visitors are taken to see a ghost orchid in bloom, they are often blind-folded during the journey so that they won’t be able to return later on their own.

While it is highly unlikely that you would spot a ghost orchid without a guide, an airboat tour through the Everglades would be an excellent opportunity to try, without having to get in the water and chance an encounter with an alligator or two. Many of the Everglade’s unique and interesting creatures and plants can be viewed safely from the comfort of an airboat ride, providing once in a lifetime thrills that the entire family can enjoy.