Friday, July 16, 2010

Ghost Hunters, Part II

There is no shortage of danger in the Everglades. Our quest to find the rare and endangered Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) in the swamps of South Florida has led us to a tiny slough in a remote area of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

I have seen one Ghost Orchid in the wild – the now famous Corkscrew Swamp “Super Ghost” that can be seen at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL. It’s the only orchid whose location is not a secret. It’s unusual in that it was discovered growing forty-five up on the trunk of a Bald Cypress. It also showed off eleven blooms at one point and could be seen for several weeks straight.

Ghost Orchids are most commonly found growing on Pop Ash or Pond Apple trees, offer one bloom for a couple weeks in the summer and can be found floating like an apparition just a few inches from the tree and just above eye level.

Our quest involved wading hip-deep in cool water from tree trunk to tree trunk, looking for the signature spider-like tendrils of the Ghost Orchid. Unseen underwater logs impeded progress while floating debris had to be cast aside as we poked our way around the swamp with hiking poles. Here there may be dragons of the Alligator variety but slow, methodical probing of the area around us would most likely encourage any restless reptiles to move elsewhere.

Within a few minutes of entering the slough we had found our first Ghost Orchid plant, an amassment of green, cord-like vegetation with distinct white-dashes, giving each “branch” the appearance of a divided highway. Our next plant offered success in the form of a single, ethereal bloom seemingly suspended in midair.

Ghost Orchids are pollinated by the Giant Sphinx Moth (Cocytius antaeus), a long-tongued night flyer that sips sweet nectar from the unusually long nectary of the Ghost Orchid. By visiting the bloom, the moth unknowingly rubs it’s head on the anther cap or pollinium of the flower. If it visits another flower it has the rare opportunity of assisting in pollination. From there the Ghost casts out wind-borne seeds to hopefully begin the next generation.

After several water-logged hours of listening to the incessant buzzing and biting of “swamp angels”, navigating around softball-sized woods spiders and watching for Cottonmouths and other critters we had the good fortune of discovering over fifty ghost orchids with four in bloom.

My Shangri-la exists but you have to believe in Ghosts. 


7 comments:

  1. You might want to consider an Amazon link to Ghost Orchid by D. K. Christi, inspired by the blooming of the ghost orchid of Corkscrew Swamp and praised by NPR Reviews for the beauty of the ghost orchid that shines through on every page; the ghost orchid the heart and soul of the story; the environment the main character. Susan Orlean never saw a ghost orchid. D.K.Christi followed the daily bloomings, year after year, of the ghost orchid at Corkscrew swamp, painting her picture with words in Ghost Orchid. You might enjoy the read yourself, capturing the mystery and mystique of the Everglades even though lacking the danger and inhospitality of other ghost orchid searches. www.dkchristi.com

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  2. And if I do will i get a free copy ;)

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  3. Hi Pete,
    excellent article...I recognize a few of those plants from expeditions that I have made to the same area. You can see my gallery of ghost orchid photos, along with detailed information on the species here:

    Ghost Orchid Information Page

    ---Prem
    curator
    The Florida Native Orchid Site

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  4. Nice page and photos prem. Thanks for sharing

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  5. For every click on the link, Amazon provides a little click incentive; they add up. As an ebook, Ghost Orchid is only around $4.00 ($14.95 cover price & lower online for print), a very economical memento of a positive Everglades experience without the swamp angels and slogging through the water. It's also a nice guide for experiencing the beauty of the Everglades, especially for the novice who might never otherwise consider the idea of walking in the swamp. You know the gifts to the soul; the readers of Ghost Orchid hunger for them after reading the novel.
    I'd be happy to link this blog and any sites with ghost orchid info and pictures to www.dkchristi.com

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  6. beautiful blog..pls visit mine and be a follower.. thanks and God bless..

    http://forlots.blogspot.com/

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