Ghost Orchid Controversy

Controversy flared up last week down Palm Beach County way, when a local FNPS (Florida Native Plant Society chapter auctioned off one the rare ghost orchids, Dendrophylax lindenii. You may remember this one from the movie, adapted from Susan Orleans' book, and with the same title, The Orchid Thief.

Here's what happened. An irate email was sent to the Webmaster, expressing the opinion that the chapter was at fault both for selling this endangered plant, and for possibly encouraging poaching.

This is a valid concern, of course. No one wants more people out in the Fakahatchee Strand or Corkscrew Swamp, the only places where the orchid exists now, trying to bring home a specimen for their yard.

                                                                               photo by niseidobelle

Thankfully this orchid had not been taken from the wild, but purchased from an orchid grower, Oak Hill Gardens. And, as the Webmaster pointed out in his reply, many natives commonly sold commercially, like Simpsons stoppers and coonties, are now rare in their native habitats.  He posited that if plants are more easily available, then there is less incentive for people to go out and obtain them illegally. A good philosophical debate! 

I didn’t really know much about the Ghost orchid. Looking for some background, I found this website: Their site is easy to use and has great photos of a Ghost orchid in bloom.
And I discovered why it’s called a Ghost orchid! It’s actually a monocot (who knew?), with a very thin stem. The leaves have shrunken down so much they have been reduced to scales. There is more explanation on the website if you’re interested. So on the tree, you mostly see a mass of roots, and the flowers are borne on the tiny spikes rising from the root mass. This makes the flower appear to be floating in thin air, hence the name. Well, I guess if you saw the movie, you knew that, but it was news to me!

On a roll, I called the folks at Oak Hill Orchids to find out about what you would actually get if you bought a ghost orchid from them. They were kind enough to answer a lot of questions, but were not very encouraging about success.

They have only one size, selling for $12.50. This is a plant mounted on a grapevine plank, having a root mass of ONE inch. That’s one inch, edge to edge. This plant will be five years to bloom size, if it lives through the first month. I asked the agent if he thought we would have an advantage growing it in the south Florida area. The answer was , “No, the people in Florida are too cocky because they think all they have to do is hang the thing under a tree. They kill thousands of them.”

On the other hand, Rufino Osorio, author of A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants, was at the auction giving excellent advice on how to grow the natives being sold. He avows that it IS possible to grow these orchids at home, and told us about one he knows of with roots over two feet long.  His advice is to pay strict attention to where the plant is placed. This needs to be as close to conditions in the heart of a swamp as you can get. And then to leave it totally alone.

Well, there you have it from both sides. I would say that we have posed a challenge here. Maybe we should have a contest? 

Which leads me to my final comment – we DO want to have great conversations here, and intend to have a place where you can easily comment after each post. Only right now we can’t do it. Long, boring story. We are working on it, though, and in the meantime we would really love to hear from you. 

Until our comment box becomes enabled, you can email us directly @

Send us your thoughts! 

And you can use our new, shorter address now too:

sue dingwell


dkchristi said…
The ghost orchid is truly exciting; unfortunately, the threat to habitat is also an issue. Therefore, it is critical to reach those who don't generally think in terms of preserving the Everglades so they experience its wonder and mystery. Susan Orlean never saw a ghost orchid; D. K. Christi was inspired by the discovery of the "super ghost" at Blair Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to write the novel, Ghost Orchid, praised by National Public Radio for the beauty of the Everglades that shines through on every page, the ghost orchid the heart and soul of the story. Keith Davis grew and award-winning ghost orchid recognized by the Audubon Society, a picture is found at

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