Showing posts with label Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii). Show all posts

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 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes/Cleistesiopsis bifaria) watercolor

The Rosebud Orchid, Cleistesiopsis (Cleistes) bifaria, is perhaps my favorite Florida terrestrial orchid (the Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, is my favorite epiphyte).  

I remember back when I was 13-14, living on the outskirts of Tallahassee in a semi-rural area with a state forest on one side and the Apalachicola National Forest on the other.  The previous year, an arson-derived wildfire took out a number of acres of mature pine forest, leaving a long swathe of moist prairie in its wake.  The forest service planted a number of seedling pines (which are now a near-mature forest again) in the area, but they were many years from maturing at this point.  Because of this new open area, we were able to hike in easily and observe the local flora - blue-eyed grasses, yellow star lilies, sundews, butterworts (big yellow and little blue), hat-pins, and bachelor's-buttons all grew in abundance in the area.  

One day, I came home from school to my mom inviting us to go out on a hike with her to see something "interesting" she saw earlier that day while hiking in the forest.  She suggested grabbing a pair of binoculars as we headed out of the door.  We followed the western edge of the prairie to a patch of forest close by that was mercifully spared from the fire.  

As we approached the area, I saw a few of the familiar white spirals of Grass-Leaved Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes praecox) that we had also seen previously further out in the prairie.  As we hiked further along the remains of an old firebrake, we saw nearby some familiar fetterbushes with several leaves that had become swollen, thick and bright pink - our best guess is some sort of gall disease.  Further back toward the edge of some deeper woods, I thought I spied some more of these pinkened leaves.  "What do you see back there?" my mom asked me.  "Some more of those pink leaf galls", I replied.  

"Take your binoculars and look again."  I obeyed, expecting to see more of the same pink galls.  Instead, what I saw through the binoculars were two pink petals and a veined lip with contrasting brown-green sepals arching behind them and curving gracefully backward.  "Rosebud Orchids!" I exclaimed as I scampered toward them to observe them more closely.  All the literature I had read on them up to that point indicated that they were exceedingly rare, so I was not expecting to see these in the wild without a lot of searching, and certainly not within walking distance of my home!  I was elated.

I took to studying this species relentlessly, reading any information I could find about them in our wildflower books and later in Carl Luer's The Native Orchids of Florida (a 14-year birthday present).  It turns out that in the ANF and other portions of the Florida panhandle, this is a reasonably common orchid, but it does become rarer as you head into states north of Florida.  Ironically enough, the closely related Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), which is listed as more common in the literature, seem to be much harder to find than the Rosebud in the ANF.

The plants are very stately, bearing a single vanilla-scented flower almost two inches in diameter on a tall solitary stem.  One leaf grows midway up the stem and another bract grows beneath the flower.  The entire plant is coated with a fine, plum-like frosting that makes it relatively easy to see plants out of bloom.  Only the tall meadow-beauties in the same area have a similarly frosted leaf, but the plants are so different, they can be easily distinguished.  The flower itself consists of a set of brown-to-green sepals that arch upward from the flower.  Sometimes the sepals are straight, other times they are curled at the end.  Occasionally, one finds sepals that curl completely on themselves like an emerging brown fern fiddlehead. The tube-like corolla (the petals and lip) is tilted slightly downward, surrounding a bright green column (gynostemium).  The two petals are similar and range in color from white to a light rose-pink, ending with a slight curl at their tips.  The lip is more darkly colored, bearing a plateau-like crest edged in rose and spotted on its upper surface and a slightly ragged edge.  Rose, green, and brown colored veins snake throughout the lip, giving it a most exotic and handsome appearance.

What I found most intriguing about this species is that such beauty could be found in a native American plant.  One would expect exotic orchids from the tropics of Brazil or Peru or Madagascar to bear such beauty, but an orchid growing just a few thousand feet from my home?  I took to sketching and doodling this orchid over and over in the margins of my homework notebooks, sketching it idly whenever I had a chance.  The shape became quite familiar to my mind's eye and I could easily draw an entire plant from memory.

Many years later, I can still easily sketch one of these without any visual aid.

If you want to read more about this species, follow the link below:

Quite recently, I have taken to experimenting with watercolor pencils, which are a most intriguing medium to work with.  You essentially color-pencil in your artwork on your paper and then use a wet paintbrush to turn it into a watercolor painting.  This gives me very fine control of the placement of the color, although the limited color palette of my basic set makes picking a proper blend of the colors challenging at times (I will try to upgrade to a more "professional" set some time soon). My first experiment in the medium was my Ghost Orchid painting, seen in an earlier blog entry and recently "digitally remastered" in Photoshop to smooth out the background to what you see below:

Ghost Orchid Watercolor Painting (Dendrophylax lindenii)

I figured it was high time to render my favorite terrestrial orchid in full watercolor treatment as well.  My main problem with the ghost orchid painting that I had done previously was the fact that I didn't try to use anything to mask the foreground while painting the background.  Hence, I had to try to fill in the background into some exceedingly small areas.  I also tried to use the watercolor pencils to color in the background and then wash over them.  This was very hard to smooth out to what I wanted for a background.  Hence, the digital makeover to fix this painting a bit.

This time, I used rubber cement for a masking compound, painting over the sketch I made of the Rosebud Orchid, based on this photo:

Cleistes bifaria (Rosebud Orchid)

The rubber cement worked like a charm for masking, allowing me to wash over the paper with impunity to create a much smoother background, but being transparent, it was hard to judge how it was working right at the edges. Hence, once the paper was dried and the mask removed, I had to try to touch up the somewhat ragged edges, which made it a little more difficult to keep the color entirely even.  It is my understanding that "professional" (read: expensive) masking compounds add a bit of color, making it easier to see where you are going with it.  I may try one of these the next time around.

Once the mask was removed and the edges touched up as well as possible, I began the task of painting the flower. I was most concerned about properly conveying the sense that the light was penetrating the upward-arching sepals and washing into the shadow at the base of the petals and getting the intricate coloring of the lip as correct as possible.  After a lot of painstaking application of layers of color - olive, clay yellow, brown, deep yellow, cherry red, carmine, lavender and forest green; I am pretty happy with the results.

So, without further ado, I give to you my Rosebud Orchid rendering in watercolor and watercolor pencil:

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes bifaria) watercolor painting

And here is a closer shot of the flower to see the detail:

Rosebud Orchid (Cleistes bifaria) watercolor painting

I hope you enjoy this at least a fraction as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ghost Whispering

With our large van out of commission on the south side of Naples, FL after leaving the COS symposium, we were able to convince my eldest son, Josh, to come pick us up. This made for a rather harrowing early morning ride back to Orlando with two rather tired drivers (Josh and myself) taking tandem shifts to get us back. The van still in Naples, we had it towed to a nearby shop where they proceeded to repair it in our absence.

This, of course, meant that we had to go retrieve it once it had been fixed. So, Josh, Timothy (my 2nd oldest son) and I made the trip back down to Naples yesterday. Since we were already so close to the Fakahatchee Strand, Tim and I decided to press on to the swamp while Josh headed back to finish studying for finals coming up. I probably would get an award for evil dad of the day trying to convince Josh to postpone his studies and join us in the Fak...alas, he is too diligent of a student!

Now, I knew that this is late in the season to find blooming ghost orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii)...and a check of our usual haunts turned up bloomless plants. I had lost almost all hope when I followed my maps to one final plant seen on several trips before. This is the same plant showing a double bloom on my ghost orchid gallery page.

As I sighted up the trunk of the tree, my eyes were met with one of the last ghost orchid flowers of the season. I pointed this out to Tim, whose audible sigh let me know that he was experiencing that 'first ghost orchid in the wild' feeling. I had experienced this to some extent when seeing the ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp, but even moreso when I had seen my first flower only a few feet out of reach in the middle of the deep swamp.

It was a good thing I had my Canon 70-300 mm telephoto lens this day, as about 30 feet of stifling, mosquito-laden air separated me from my prize. We stayed there for roughly an hour, photographing the flower every time the light was good and the breeze was light. Here is a photo from this day...the day Tim whispered a sigh of awe at seeing his first wild ghost.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Corkscrew Swamp Ghost Orchid in Bloom

I have just been informed that the Corkscrew Swamp ghost orchid is in flower with seven flowers presently.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

First Publication Cover!

The reason I go out into the field to photograph Florida's wild orchids is because they interest me and I hope to share this interest with others, and this is its own reward. When one of my photographs is chosen for publication, I am honored and humbled that someone has considered using my work. Recently, I was approached to submit a photo of a Florida native orchid for use for the cover of the Florida State Horticultural Society Proceedings. After submitting several photos, we settled on a photo of "Miguel's ghost orchid", an orchid discovered by the late Miguel Urquia in a deep nook in the Fakahatchee Strand, that had four flowers open at once (I photographed it a few days before the final bud opened). They liked the photo so much, they wanted to use an additional photo for the back cover. Here are the two photos that appear on the front and back cover of the 2010 proceedings of the FSHS:

Front Cover:

Back Cover:

In celebration of this publication, I will be making limited edition prints of the photo of Miguel's ghost available for purchase at upcoming speaking engagements.

You can click here to go to the 2010 proceedings website.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ghost Orchid Painting - Experimenting with Watercolor Pencils

I was inspired to try something by a post several years ago on the previous instantiation of Misti Little's blog (Oceanic Wilderness in my blogroll). In the post, she was interviewing an artist friend who used watercolor pastels to do painting and was describing how they gave her the precision of pastel drawing with the final result looking like a watercolor after water was applied to the paper. This intrigued me immensely, so I filed this away in my brain. Fast-forward to about two weeks ago, where I was picking up some art supplies for my kids--I spied a box of watercolor pencils.

I figured I'd give them a whirl. I immediately fixed upon Miguel Urquia's Ghost Orchid as my subject of interest. Here's the photo below:

And here's the result. I feel like it's pretty good for my first effort, but I definitely have some room for improvement:

Here are a couple of detail shots:

Let me know what you think in the comments, but please remember, this is my first attempt at this medium.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15, 2010: Corkscrew Swamp Ghost Orchid Blooms again

I just received a tweet from the Corkscrew Swamp twitter feed indicating that there are four flowers open now on the 'Super Ghost Orchid' at Corkscrew Swamp. This will be the fourth flush of blooms this venerable orchid has had this year. To learn more about Corkscrew Swamp, click the page link below:

Corkscrew Swamp Home Page

For those of you unfamiliar with this particular orchid, the large ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp (often dubbed the 'Super Ghost') was discovered in 2007 at Corkscrew Swamp near Naples, Florida and is the only ghost orchid whose location is made known to the general public. I have blogged about this plant previously. Follow the link below to see these entries:

Corkscrew Ghost Orchid at The Florida Native Orchid Blog

This will likely be the last blooming for this orchid for this year (in fact, it's very hard to find any ghost orchids in bloom this late in the year), so if you can make the trip down there, you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Corkscrew Swamp's 'Super Ghost' Orchid Is Starting To Bloom Again!

July 3, 2010: Corkscrew Swamp's 'Super Ghost' orchid is starting to bloom again. According to the following article:

Ghost Orchid article

The first of fourteen flower buds is opening. This is the only ghost orchid whose location is not kept hidden from the public, owing to the fact that it is far off the boardwalk (about 100 feet) and 40 feet up a tree. There are other ghost orchids that grow elsewhere in the Big Cypress Swamp, Fakahatchee Strand State Park, etc., but their location is a closely guarded secret to prevent illegal poaching.

Corkscrew Swamp is located near Naples, Florida and is a wonderful place to visit, featuring a two-plus mile boardwalk through the heart of one of the last stands of old growth baldcypress trees in the US. In addition to visiting a botanical paradise unlike anything else in the world, birds and other wildlife are often visible just off the boardwalk, seemingly oblivious to the people gawking at them. To plan your trip there, visit their website at:

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

There are also a number of hotels and restaurants in the area offering exclusive 'ghost orchid rates' for visitors coming in to see the rare flowers. You can find out more at:

To find out more about the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), visit the following link:

Ghost Orchid Information Page on



Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 2010: Corkscrew Swamp 'SuperGhost' Blooms Extremely Early

March 30, 2010.

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) off the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has started its blooming season very early this year. This is the earliest blooming for this particular orchid on record and one of the earliest (if not the earliest) dates for seeing a blooming ghost orchid, period. Right now, there is only one flower open (with no other buds visible), so this is just a little taste of what this plant will do later on this year (it usually blooms in July through September with multiple flowers at once).

This one flower will likely last into this coming weekend, if you are interested in going to see it...or you can catch it later on this year Be sure to call the sanctuary in advance at (239) 348-9151 to see if it is still blooming. Also, be sure to get there early for plenty of time to walk the boardwalk.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Corkscrew Ghost Orchid Update

As of today, there are nine flowers open with five buds on the way. Looks like the venerable "Super Ghost" is gearing up for quite a show! If you have the means at all to get to the Naples, Florida area, this is well worth the time and effort.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ghost Orchid Season Underway

Down in south Florida, in areas in and around the Big Cypress Swamp, the ghost orchids are beginning to bloom. Their accepted scientific name is now Dendrophylax lindenii (changed from Polyrrhiza lindenii and Polyradicion lindenii, but they are sometimes still referenced by their old names). It should be noted that nearly all land where these orchids grow are either federally or state protected lands. In addition, they are on the state endangered species list, so taking these from the wild can land someone in jail, or hit them with stiff fines. Further, the plants taken from the wild are very likely to die a rapid and miserable death away from their native environment. Taking wild plants is also entirely pointless, as one can purchase legally seed-grown seedling plants from several vendors, including Oak Hill Gardens, for a very reasonable price. Keep a legally purchased seedling alive and growing for 3-4 years and you're likely to have your first flower.

While there is a substantial population in the Fakahatchee Strand State Park, plants are usually quite inaccessible, requiring grueling hikes through swampy areas infested with mosquitoes, alligators and poisonous snakes (both rattlesnakes and water moccasins are seen frequently in these areas). In addition, those who know where plants are found are very reluctant to share this information anymore, as plants continue to turn up, the actions of a few very selfish individuals has spoiled it for the rest of us...there are no more public tours led by park staff into the deep swamps to see ghost orchids in bloom. This is truly a shame.

However, all hope is not lost to see a ghost orchid in bloom. In fact, there is one ghost orchid whose location has been made publicly is the world-famous Corkscrew "Super" Ghost of the largest plants ever seen, with up to twelve flowers open simultaneously. It is well off the boardwalk and high up a tree, and thus not easily accessible. When in flower, park staff at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary will place spotting scopes on the boardwalk so that it can be easily seen. As I understand it, it is not yet in flower (it usually opens up in mid-July)...I will post an announcement to this blog as soon as I hear anything more.

You can see a new round of freshly posted ghost orchid photos on the Ghost Orchid Page:

Ghost Orchid at

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