Ghost orchids draw visitors to a Florida preserve

The Corkscrew Swamp Preserve, in southwestern Florida, receives a wave of visitors these days, as it does every year around this time, due to the blooming of what is considered the largest ghost orchid on the planet.

Orchid lovers, some from abroad, gather at the Audubon Society’s reserve, located near the city of Naples, to contemplate this rare orchid called “ghost” because it seems to float in the air next to the bald cypress tree to which it is attached by tendrils they are invisible from a distance.

The first flower of the 2023 season was photographed on June 27, according to the reserve’s website.

Ghost orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii) depend on extremely sensitive wetland habitats and they are only known to live in southern Florida and Cuba.

“This incredible plant, which relies on the unique microclimate found only in bogs like Corkscrew, has been a gift to the scientific community,” says Keith Laakkonen, director of the reserve.

The “Super” ghost orchid, the largest of those growing in the reserve, was discovered in July 2007 and is the center of attention every summeralthough it has flowered at other times of the year.

Ghost orchids are plants that cling to the trunks or branches of certain species of trees and receive all their food and water through the atmosphere or the tree’s surface, without harming the tree.

They have no real leaves, and for much of the year the plants are barely visible. Once the flowers drop, only their roots remain.

According to the WLRN public channel in South Florida, although it is the largest ghost orchid known, it is small and lovers of these plants have to use binoculars to appreciate the details of its yellowish-green flowers.

The director of the Corkscrew Marsh Reserve explained to WLRN that many times you must help visitors locate the ghost orchid.

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“They think the ghost orchid is going to be a three or four foot (one meter) wide orchid, and it’s actually very small and very delicate,” he said.

Ghost orchids are seriously threatened by climate change, urban development, poaching, and weather events like last year’s Hurricane Ian, which affected the great Everglades wetland, one of the places where they grow naturally.

It is estimated that there are only a thousand plants in nature, says WLRN in an article on its website.

They are practically only found in nature reserves and protected and tribal areas in an area of ​​South Florida and in Cuba, reports the channel.

WLRN points out that there are collectors who pay high prices for rare or newly discovered orchids, which encourages them to be uprooted from their habitat.

Federal and state wildlife officials said in 2022 that the rare and beautiful plant could well be added to the endangered species list by the end of the year, but it hasn’t, causing concern among environmentalists.

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