Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Early Grass Pink - not so early this year

I made a trip up into the Florida panhandle recently in late April, primarily to transport family members back to the Orlando area for a visit. Of course, not one to waste a good opportunity, I scheduled a brief amount of time to head into the woods and check on the local flora. I have seen Calopogon barbatus (commonly known as the bearded grass pink or early grass pink) many times in the area...the first time happened when my family got our car stuck in some dirt on a side road in the Apalachicola National Forest. Typically, they come up at the end of March and into the beginning of April, so I didn't have much hope of finding them in bloom this late. Much to my surprise, many small racemes of pink, slightly-less-than-one-inch flowers greeted me along a familiar trailside. It seems that many plants are blooming late this year, owing to the unusually cold and long winter (for Florida, anyway--I hear that in the northern states, spring came a bit early).

Here is one of the first photos to make it through the rather arduous digital editing process:

Calopogon barbatus (Early Grass Pink, Bearded Grass Pink)
Note the bristle of hairs presented on the upper half of the lip. You might think (along with any self-respecting bee) that this is a cluster of stamens and/or pistils all covered in pollen and ready for the bees to collect (and thus distribute pollen between flowers), but you would think incorrectly. The true pollen is in the arrow-like structure (the column) arching downward from the center of the flower. The lip is jointed below the bristles, bending under the weight of the small bees that visit these flowers. This forces the bee onto its back onto the waiting column below. In the process, pollen is transferred to its back, to be picked up when it visits the next flower. Thus, this species of orchid uses trickery to achieve pollination, not offering any true reward (nectar or pollen) to the visiting bee. This strategy appears to be fairly successful, judging by the number of seed pods encountered on these plants in the wild.



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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Epidendrum magnoliae article published in October Orchids magazine.

The latest edition of Orchids magazine (the American Orchid Society) has just come out. In it, you will find an article I wrote (and took photos for) on our common and popular native orchid, Epidendrum magnoliae. The AOS publication has lately placed an emphasis on native orchids, with articles featuring US natives appearing monthly.

Epidendrum magnoliae is a rather common epiphyte in the state of Florida, inhabiting about 3/4 of the state (becoming absent in extreme southern Florida). It ranges outside of Florida into coastal regions of other southeastern states on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, where its diminutive size allows it to hide in plain view in many hardwood hammocks and swamps, often nestled within colonies of resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides).

In any case, pick up a copy of Orchids if you're not subscribed (and, while you're at it, order a subscription to the magazine) and enjoy the article.

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.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Corkscrew Swamp Ghost Is At It Again!!!!

The world-famous ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is beginning to bloom again! According to the Fort-Myers News-Press, the plant has two flowers showing and another ten buds developing. Below is a picture taken during its first known blooming in July of 2007. At the point this was taken, seven flowers remained on the plant:

This is the only ghost orchid where the location is made known widely to the public (all other plants are a closely guarded secret to prevent poaching), and going to see it doesn't involve getting wet, muddy, and overwhelmed with mosquito bites. When the ghost orchid is in bloom, volunteers place spotting scopes on the boardwalk pointed at the flowers, so they can be enjoyed as if they were up close.

Here is a link to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary web site:

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Website

Seeing one of these plants in the wild is an opportunity not to be missed!

Prem and family enjoying the ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp.

When we learned of this orchid back in 2007, we made the trek from the Orlando, Florida area down to the sanctuary just to the east of Naples. This was about a four-hour trip each way, but well worth the effort. We had visited the sanctuary on several occasions in the past and it has always been a favorite place for us. As you walk along the boardwalk from the visitor's center across the open pinelands and marshy area toward the swamp, it seems much like other boardwalks to other places you might experience. Soon you begin to penetrate the more open pond cypress swamp as you head further westward. Just about every branch is covered with species of bromeliads and the occasional orchid. Then you make the transition into the old-growth swamp and the sense of wonder becomes nearly overwhelming as you experience the old-growth cypress swamp. Large trees, festooned with every sort of epiphyte extend off into the distance, ringed around their bases with large ferns. Swamp lilies and hibiscus grow in the spaces between these, and smaller trees such as pond-apples and pop-ash form an understory that reaches to just overhead as you continue along the walk. It is like going back in time to a Florida that once was (as this type of ecosystem covered large tracts of our state at one time). It is also sad as you realize that most forests like this were logged as few as 50 years ago to pay for our "progress".

As you continue on with a profound sense of wonder tinged with sadness, you turn a corner to see a
tiny crowd of people clustered around a few spotting scopes. With your naked eye, you can barely make out a wisp of white against a large, three-headed cypress far off like a giant trident planted in the swamp. A view through some good binoculars makes it possible to see it a little closer, but the spotting scopes really bring the flowers into close focus, every leg, every spur visible in the mass of flowers on this venerable, old plant. Not only is this plant easily viewable by visitors, it holds the record for the most flowers open on a single plant (12 flowers open out of 15 buds total) and the most flowers for a season (26 flowers in all). It bloomed three times again in 2008 (9 flowers in July -- I could find no reports of the flower counts for other months). No doubt this plant fluctuates from year-to-year as conditions seem more or less favorable for its flowering.

To read more about the ghost orchid in general, visit my Ghost Orchid Page.

Enjoy! And get out there to the sanctuary to see this plant!


Monday, June 29, 2009

Endemic to Florida - the rarest of the rare, Triphora craigheadii

Dr. Carl Luer, author of The Native Orchids of Florida, was first made aware of this orchid in the late 1950's. It was not until several years later that he found plants of this species in flower, after several unsuccessful attempts. Described by Luer in 1966 and named Triphora craigheadii after the late Dr. Frank Craighead, Sr., entomologist and botanist at the Everglades National Park, this orchid is only known from a few localities in central Florida (and one or two possible localities from southern Florida). It may grow in many places, but it is so small as to be virtually undetectable, quietly inhabiting the understory of the understory of mixed oak/pine/juniper forests, where it grows as a terrestrial or occasionally a lithophyte over the limestone underlayment where it makes its home. As a genus, Triphoras are often quite small. This species is a liliputian even among Triphoras. I have included an image below with a U.S. penny placed in the shot to give an idea of the sense of scale.

Triphora craigheadii

Triphora craigheadii

To make it even harder to find these plants, they only bloom during the last week of June and first week or two of July. Were it not for the guidance of a good friend, I would not have these photographs to present to you today. Look for an update to the Florida Native Orchids website within the next few weeks with more information on this species.

Triphora craigheadii

Triphora craigheadii

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


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rare form of Hexalectris spicata

While out photographing the previous Hexalectris spicata flowers, my daughters and I noticed one spike in the area that was decidedly paler than the other emerging spikes (which were already turning a dusky red). It was several weeks away from flower, so we flagged it for a colleague to observe when he was in the area...being closer, he was able to keep tabs on the flowers as they grew, so we were able to return when they had finally opened. This is a nearly alba form of Hexalectris spicata, with only the faintest color on the tepals and lip. A true albino form, fma. wilderi, would have no color at all, while fma. albolabia would have no coloration on the lip of an otherwise normally colored flower. This form has no formal description as of yet, although something very similar is pictured in Paul Martin Brown's Wild Orchids of Florida in the section on this species.

You can read more about this species on my website (and view the typical color form) at:

>> The Hexalectris spicata profile page at Florida Native Orchids <<

Canon Digital Rebel XTi, f22, ISO100, 1/200s. Flash through a diffuser. Composite of two photographs, one of the upper flower and one of the lower flower.

Unfortunately, most of the spike had wilted due to what appeared to be the nips of a hungry insectoid creature (although it could've been a fungal or bacterial rot), so these were the only good flowers remaining.

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