The Ghost Orchid
Dendrophylax lindenii (syn. Polyrrhiza lindenii), a.k.a. the ghost orchid, is perhaps the most revered orchid in the United States, if not the world. Its locations and stories are like smoke on the wind. The ghost orchid was discovered by Jean Jules Linden in Cuba in 1844, and the plant was discovered in the sub-tropical peninsula of Florida about 50 years later. Found in concealed swamps of Cuba, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and other guarded locations in South Florida, the ghost remains a mystery to most people. Some sources elude that it’s possible the ghost orchid has become extremely rare in Cuba or quite possibly now nowhere to be found on the island. It is rumored that pre 1980s the plant was much more common than it is today.
Today it is a rare and fascinating sight to see a ghost orchid in bloom. It is approximated that 2,000 individual plants reside in the swamps of South Florida. Of these, approximately 5 to 10% bloom each year, and of those only about 10% are pollinated by Cocytius antaeus, the giant sphinx moth (dubbed “the flying tongue” by Mike Owen). It’s theorized that the sphinx moth follows the odor of the ghost orchid like a shark in a chum slick back to its source, where it then uses its 5-9” tongue to drink the nectar out of the ghost orchid. This same moth must then find another blooming ghost orchid to pollinate. The sphinx moth is the sole pollinator of this flower and the only local insect with a proboscis (tongue) long enough to reach the pollen inside of the orchid. (center image)
Ghost orchids usually will have 1 bloom, but on some occasions a plant will have more than one flower and possibly multiple flowers on individual or separate flower spikes. On July 7, 2007 a previously unknown and outstandingly large ghost orchid was discovered in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL. This plant, dubbed the “Super Ghost”, was growing 45 feet high and had 11 blooms at its peak. It is currently the only wild ghost orchid whose location is not kept secret. (bottom 2 images)
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