Plant Profile: the Ghost Orchid
|Figure 1. Ghost orchid flower. |
Picture Credit – M.Fournier HBI.
American Ghost Orchid
Scientific Name: Dendrophylax lindenii
Genus: DendrophylaxSpecies: Dendrophylax lindenii
Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants. With over 30,000 species of orchids found in just about every part of the planet. While most plants are rooted in the soil, orchids can grow “in the air” with their aerial roots attached to rocks and tree trunks. Found almost exclusively in southern Florida, Haitian, and Cuban swamps, these orchids grow best in high humidity and still air.
Dendrophylax lindenii or American ghost orchid is one of the most famous of the orchids that grow in the United States. It is known as the ghost orchid because the flower can appear to be floating in the air, due to the roots blending so well with the tree. The numerous roots are generally greyish-green with white marking and radiate from the base of the plant. Unlike many other orchids, the ghost orchid is leafless, leading researchers to believe that photosynthesis may occur in the roots.
Dendrophylax lindenii is an epiphyte, meaning that it is a plant that can be found growing on living plants or plant matter, like the occasional dead tree trunk. Normally ghost orchids are found attached to the trunks of pop ash or pond apple trees, but have also been seen on some cypress, live oak, and royal palm trees.
Each ghost orchid can bloom one to ten flowers that open one at a time from May to September; each flower can last up to two weeks. The white flowers are up to 5 centimeters across and 10 centimeters long. The flower itself has three green sepals, two green petals, and one larger white petal. This lip or labellum forks at the end, resembles the back legs of a jumping frog due to the elongated tips twisting slightly downward (Figure 1).
|Figure 2. Giant sphinx moth, showing long proboscis.|
Picture credit: Esculapio.
The major pollinator for these plants is the giant sphinx moth, which is the only local insect with a long enough proboscis (Figure 2). During hot and humid summer nights, the flower emits a strong apple-like scent to attract the moth. As these moths feed on the nectar, they pick up pollen on their heads and carry it to the next orchid. Seeds are produced 10-12 months after pollination.
The rare ghost orchid is listed as an endangered species, protected by both state and federal laws from unauthorized collection. The primary reason for the ghost orchid becoming endangered is due to humans poaching the plant. Climate change is another reason for the orchid’s decline. Florida has been experiencing freezes in the winter, and this affects the orchid’s growth. Approximately 2,000 Dendrophylax lindenii are thought to exist in Florida today. Ghost orchids can be purchased from authorized venders, but growing a seedling can be challenging.
It is possible to go and see these plants in their natural environment by visiting areas such as Big Cypress Swamp, the Fakahatchee Swamp, and the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary located near Naples, FL.
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Durkee, Debra. How to Grow Ghost Orchids Flowers. eHow home. 2011. www.ehow.com/how_2340867_grow-ghost-orchids-flowers.html
Ghosts of the Fakahatchee Swamp. Linda’s Orchid Pages. 1996-2011. www.orchidlady.com/pages/orchidGarden/Dendrophylax.html
Ghost Orchid. Mahalo. Learn Anything. 2011. www.mahalo.com/ghost-orchid
Kingsley Taylor, Walter. "Dendrophylax lindenii." Wild florida photo n. pag. Wild florida photo. Web. 6 Nov 2011. http://www.wildflphoto.com/species.php?k=p&id=365 .
Little, Chris. Ghost Orchid Info. Your Dendrophylax Lindenii Information Location. www.ghostorchid.info/generalinformation.htm
Subrahmanyam, Prem. Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii). Florida’s Native and Naturalized Orchids. 2008. www.flnativeorchids.com/natives_gallery/dendrophylax_lindenii.htm
Taylor, Susan. "Orchid plant profile-Dendrophylax lindenii." Minerva WebWorks LLC
Also see our previous blog posts: Florida Native Plant Society Blog: Ghost Orchid Controversy and Florida Native Plant Society Blog: Ghost Orchid Controversy Resolved