Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ghosts of the Florida Swamps

This past weekend, a small band of explorers (my wife, two plant researchers, and myself) made a foray into the Fakahatchee Strand and nearby areas to see Ghost Orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii) in the wild and hopefully catch at least one in flower.  We were disappointed to find that the trees that hosted many ghost orchids in the past had been broken by storms or otherwise dead due to natural causes.  On some of the living trees, we also found dead orchids...cause of death: unknown.  All told, from an area where we had previously seen about 15 plants, only five remained. These two sloughs which held many ghosts in their heyday were a sad vestige of their former selves.  To add insult to injury, several ghost orchids were stolen from these areas in the past year.

Thankfully, in another nearby area, we found a healthy population of ghost orchids, after wading into water and thick mud beneath that sometimes had us submerged chest high and tugging our feet furiously out of the mud trying to arch our toes so as not to lose a shoe.  It was less than half a mile of walking, but one of the most grueling hikes I have ever done. Several plants were in bud, which seemed to be our consolation prize.  My thoughts raced to strategies for trying to come back the next week.  Just as we were deciding to head back, I thought to loop around one large buttressed pond apple tree at the very edge of the area...lo and behold, just as I rounded one of the several trunks, a beautiful near-white flower met my eyes with a bud opening up just above it.  The morning light shone around the tree, leaving the roots in shadow but the flower catching the sun's rays, enhancing the otherworldly look of this ephemeral flower.

We took video and photos of the plant, which I present here:




This was an especially meaningful trip for me, as during all my previous visits to the Fakahatchee Strand, my wife was at home tending to nursing babies.  I kept promising her that when they were grown enough, I would take her to see ghost orchids up close in the wild.  I was able to make good on that promise this past weekend.

I took many photos of this superlative orchid, which I will be adding to the profile page on the Florida Native and Naturalized Orchids website.  You can view that full profile and find out more information about the ghost orchids by following the link below:

Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) profile link 


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