Thursday, September 9, 2010

Florida's Oft-overlooked Ghost Orchid-- Dendrophylax porrectus

We are now entering the blooming season for Florida's enigmatic 'Little Ghost Orchid' (not its actual common name - Jingle Bell Orchid or Needleroot Orchid are the most often used names). It was originally discovered in Florida growing in a citrus grove near Oneco, FL, then having the name Aeranthus porrectus. It has since bounced around between several genera and species - Harrisella porrecta, Campylocentrum porrectum, Campylocentrum filiforme, to finally land in the genus Dendrophylax (as Dendrophylax porrectus) , the same genus as its more famous cousin, the Ghost Orchid. While the Ghost Orchid has large, showy flowers, Dendrophylax porrectus has tiny, inconspicuous flowers barely bigger than a pinhead growing on a plant that is easily overlooked, being just a bundle of untidy roots. It is most likely the most common epiphytic orchid in Florida, but is very rarely it a state protected status of Threatened. While the range of other epiphytic orchids has decreased due to freezes in the 70s and 80s, folks continue to find new northern populations, gradually extending its known range northward. While it used to be found commonly in citrus groves, the use of herbicides to control ball mosses, wild pines and other air plants of the genus Tillandsia has made it unlikely to find them in this habitat anymore.

Its seed pods are probably the most conspicuous aspect of this plant, fairly large and turning a bright brown-orange just prior to dehiscing.

The most common host trees for this orchid are Eastern Red Cedar, Pop Ash, Bald Cypress, and Pond Apple. They are most commonly found on small twigs an inch or less in diameter, especially in the crooks between branches, but I have seen plants growing on larger branches and, even in one case, on a fairly large tree trunk. The typical habitat for these will be near a swampy area where other more moisture-loving epiphytes are growing - Encyclia tampensis, Epidendrum magnoliae, Tillandsia setacea, Tillandsia bartramii, Tillandsia utriculata, Tillandsia balbisiana, Tillandsia variabilis, Tillandsia fasciculata, Tillandsia paucifolia (bulbosa), Tillandsia simulata. Look up at the undersides of branches for slender, silvery orchid roots that don't connect to anything resembling a plant. If you're lucky, you'll see the tiny green flowers that are a marvel of miniaturization nestled amongst split seed pods that look very much like little brown bells.

It blooms from August in central Florida into November in the southern counties. Click the link below to see more photographs and read more about this intriguing miniature orchid:

>> Dendrophylax porrectus (Harrisella porrecta) Information Page at Florida Native Orchids <<

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