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.