Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ghost Orchid Blooms in Florida Swamp

As many of you know, I'm very fond of orchids, especially those in the wild--Brenda Starr and all that (read my past blogs). I even put Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief on our weekly mystery book discussion list, even though it is non-fiction. The Orchid Thief was made into the movie The Adaptation, but I much preferred the book. In any case, a rare ghost orchid has bloomed at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Southwest Florida. The elusive Ghost Orchid has no leaves and appears to float in mid-air when blooming.

Growing on an ancient bald cypress tree, the first bloom on this particular Ghost Orchid was observed on July 7 with eight other buds visible through a spotting scope. Flowers of the Ghost Orchid are white to creamy green and are usually 4 1/2 to 5 inches. Ghost Orchids are very infrequent bloomers and years may pass between seasons when they do bloom, making them very rare. However, this particular plant in Corkscrew bloomed three times in the summer of 2007, the first time with 12 blossoms, the second time with 10 and the third time with three. Last year it bloomed again three separate times. Area biologists are calling this plant the Super Ghost, since typically the Ghost Orchid has between 1 and 3 blossoms per year... if they bloom at all.

The Ghost Orchid dendrophylax lindenii is a perennial epiphyte from the orchid family. It gets its epithet "lindenii" from the Belgian plant collector Jean Jules Linden who saw this orchid for the first time in Cuba in 1844. Fifty years later, it was also discovered in the Florida Everglades.

The Ghost Orchid is an endangered orchid in the wild, not that that has stopped the orchid thieves. Cultivation outside its native environment has been difficult-- almost impossible. Grown from seed, it might take 7 years to bloom, but rarely does.

It is estimated that 2000 individual plants reside in the swamps of South Florida. Of these, approximately 5-10% bloom each year, and of those only about 10% are pollinated by the giant sphinx moth. The orchid blooms between June and August with 1-10 fragrant flowers that open one at a time. Because the roots of this orchid blend with the tree, the flower seems to be floating in air, hence Ghost Orchid. Pollination is done by the giant sphinx moth, the only local insect with a long enough proboscis.

Wish I could be at Corkscrew Swamp. Hard to say that about a Florida swamp in July, but I join the ranks of those who search for and revel in rarity and beauty. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is located just northeast of Naples, and has a wonderful boardwalk throughout the swamp--so no need to slog around hip deep in swampy alligator-infested waters. It's one of my favorite U.S. "gardens". So, although I can't go this summer, maybe you can. And if you go, check out the Ghost Orchid discounts at several near-by hotels, spas and restaurants.

I have been to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a fantastic preserve, but regret I have never seen a Ghost Orchid. I'm in good company, though, neither has Susan Orlean.


Prem Subrahmanyam said...

I think you should just go...this orchid will be in bloom at least another week or two, and may do a repeat performance next month (it has done this for the past two years--bloomed in flushes each month of July, August, and September). You owe it to yourself to see this in person.

Florida's Native Orchids Blog

dkchristi said...

D. K. Christi, author of the soon to be released novel, "Ghost Orchid" actually saw this mysterious and captivating flower. Her true obsessions was documented by the Naples Daily news at the orchid's first blooming; she followed it daily during its season for three years. Its first bloomin in July falls on D. K. Christi's birthday.

Ghost Orchid is a tale about the lies, loves and redemption of a family as the ghost orchid works its magic in their lives and answers the question, "Death is final, isn't it?"