Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii)
Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids WebsiteClassification:
Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
Subclass: Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
Order: Orchidales - Orchid order
Family: Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
Subfamily: Epidendroideae -
Tribe: Vandeae - Vandaceous orchids
Subtribe: Angraecinae - Angraecum and relatives (Angraecoids)
Synonyms: Aeranthes lindenii (Lindl.) Rchb. f. 1864; Aeranthus lindenii [Lindley]Rchb.f. ?; Angraecum lindenii Lindley 1846; Dendrophylax lindenii [Lindl.]Bth. ex Rolfe 1888; Polyrrhiza lindenii [Lindley]Cogn. 1910; Polyradicion lindenii [Lindley]Garay 1969
Summary: This is a rather conspicuous leafless epiphytic orchid consisting of an abbreviated growing center with a number of radiating roots, which perform the photosynthesis for the plant.
Typically a single flower is borne during a season, which is quite large for the plant, and one of the larger orchid flowers in the state of Florida. Plants bearing multiple flowers per season are very rare.
Common Name: Ghost Orchid
Habitat: Found in deep swamps and sloughs in extreme southern Florida, primarily on the trunks of pop ash or pond apple trees, but can occasionally be found on cypress, live oak, and royal palm trees.
Flowering season: May through September (peaking in June)
The Ghost Orchid is perhaps the most famous species of orchid in Florida, having been made popular by Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief, and the movie "Adaptation", as well as the sides of U-Haul vans everywhere promoting the state of Florida. It is also one of the rarest, with only a few hundreds of known individuals growing in the area of the Big Cypress Swamp and adjacent areas (Fakahatchee Strand and Corkscrew Swamp). Finally, it is perhaps the most spectacular of the native orchids, owing to the large size of the flower, and the flower's presentation, arching out into space from a nearly non-existent plant to dangle in mid-air like some old bullfrog's long-forgotten ghost.
Botanically, this orchid is one of the trio of "leafless" orchids, all members of the Angraecoid group, which is part of the larger Vanda-Phalaenopsis alliance. The other two Floridian members of this group are Campylocentrum pachyrrhizum and Harrisella porrecta. The grey-green roots, covered with tiny silver "track marks", radiate out from the abbreviated growing center, which is also the source of the flower spikes.
Mature plants may not flower at all or will typically produce one flower during a season. Plants with more than one flower open are exceedingly rare. The largest known number of flowers borne at one time by a single plant was twelve, borne by the "Superghost" at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. You can see a photo taken at the tail end of this blooming (with six flowers still open) in the gallery above. The ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp is the only plant whose location is not kept a closely guarded secret, owing to the fact that it is quite far off the boardwalk and quite high up its host tree...anyone attempting to steal it would risk injury from other swamp patrons as they watched him or her attempt to leave the boardwalk and access the plant. It is well worth taking the effort to see the Corkscrew Swamp ghost orchid if you are able to make the trip during the July-August time frame when it typically blooms. Click the link below to find out more about the sanctuary (located near Naples, Florida):
Dendrophylax lindenii was once commonly known by the name Polyrrhiza lindenii. Polyrrhiza was then split into two genera, Polyradicion (which included P. lindenii) and the original Dendrophylax (which included the Jamaican ghost, D. funalis). Eventually, however, all of these species were moved back into the genus Dendrophylax, which is the presently accepted scientific name for these species.
I have had the chance to see the "superghost" at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary during both its July and August bloomings in 2007, but deferred another visit in 2008 in lieu of an invitation to see ghost orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand, which is one of the most unique, beautiful, and challenging environments in which to observe native orchids. It is almost an overwhelming experience, having slogged through what seems like endless miles of swampland to chance upon a population of this species, their roots almost hidden in the mosses enveloping their host trees. Then, it happens, a plant is spied with an open flower, its crystalline white lip with its long legs and greenish petals and sepals hang there in space. The long spur arches gracefully from the back of the lip, the tip of which is filled with nectar to reward its pollinator, the Giant Sphinx Moth (Cocytius antaeus), for its effort in helping to preserve this species. It is a moment of singular breathless exhilaration viewing one of the rarest and most beautiful living things on earth!
Unfortunately, this endangered species is becoming a victim of its own popularity...plants that are lower than a very tall man's height (and even entire trees containing plants that grow higher than this) have been poached in recent years, making the use of a strong telephoto lens required to get "close enough" to see plants in flower. What is doubly tragic is that the poached plant will most likely die within the year and that cultivated plants of this species are quite easy to obtain at a reasonable price (please see the Links section of this website for several possible vendors carrying ghost orchid seedlings for sale). Poachers also risk stiff fines and even jail time for their actions, as this species is protected both by state law as an endangered species and the fact that it grows in state and federally protected public lands. In short, there is no reason whatsoever to poach plants from the wild! I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough.
Copyright © 2008 Prem Subrahmanyam, All Rights Reserved.
No Text or Images from this web site may be used, in whole or in part, without the express permission of the author.