Where Do Ghost Orchids Grow: Ghost Orchid Information And Facts

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A white ghost orchid flower blooming in the wild

What is a ghost orchid, and where do ghost orchids grow? This rare orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii , is found primarily in humid, marshy areas of Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida. Ghost orchid plants are also known as white frog orchids, thanks to the frog-like shape of the odd-looking ghost orchid flowers. Read on for more ghost orchid information.

Where Do Ghost Orchids Grow?

With the exception of a handful of people, nobody knows exactly where ghost orchid plants grow. The high level of secretiveness is to protect the plants from poachers who attempt to remove them from their natural environment. Like most wild orchids in the United States, ghost orchid plants are also threatened by loss of pollinators , pesticides, and climate change .

About Ghost Orchid Plants

Blooms have a white, other-worldly appearance that lends a mysterious quality to ghost orchid flowers. The plants, which lack foliage, look like they’re suspended in air as they attach themselves to tree trunks via a few roots.

Their sweet nighttime scent attracts giant sphinx moths that pollinate the plants with their proboscis – long enough to reach pollen hidden deep within the ghost orchid flower.

Experts at University of Florida Extension estimate that there are only about 2,000 ghost orchid plants growing wild in Florida, although recent data suggests there may be significantly more.

Growing ghost orchid flowers at home is nearly impossible, as it’s extremely difficult to provide the plant’s very particular growing requirements. People who manage to remove an orchid from its environment are usually disappointed because ghost orchid plants almost always die in captivity.

Fortunately, botanists , working hard to protect these endangered plants , are making great progress in devising sophisticated means of seed germination. While you may not be able to grow these orchid plants now, perhaps one day in the future it will be possible. Until then, it’s best to enjoy these interesting specimens as nature intended – within their natural habitat, wherever that is, however, still remains a mystery.

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11 Enchanting Quirks of the Rare Ghost Orchid

the ghost orchid flower

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The ghost orchid is aptly named for a few reasons. Its white flowers have a vaguely spectral appearance, and they seem to hover in the forest due to an illusion created by the leafless plant. This effect also makes the rare orchid even harder to find, especially outside the brief, unpredictable window when it blooms in summer.

Unfortunately, the ghost orchid is also at risk of living up to its name in another way. It's an endangered species, limited to scattered populations in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida, where it exists in just three southwestern counties.

It inhabits remote swamp forests and small wooded islands, yet still faces an array of threats from humans, namely poaching, climate change, loss of pollinators, and loss of habitat.

The species has long enchanted anyone lucky enough to see it, and we're still learning its secrets—including new research that challenges what we thought we knew about its pollinators.

In honor of the ghost orchid's haunting mystique, and of scientists' quest to save it, here's a closer look at this unique floral phantom.

1. It only blooms once a year for a few weeks—or not at all

The ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ) blooms between June and August, typically just once per year for a period of about one or two weeks. Or it might just take the year off. As few as 10% of ghost orchids may bloom in a given year, and of those, as few as 10% may be pollinated.

2. It has scales instead of leaves

The ghost orchid is what's known as a "leafless" orchid, since its leaves have been reduced to scales and mature plants seem to lack foliage.

It also has a reduced stem, which is often hard to see even if you somehow find a ghost orchid in the wild.

3. It's mostly made of roots

In lieu of leaves and a stem, the ghost orchid plant consists mostly of roots, which grow on a tree's bark without need for the soil below. That's because the ghost orchid is an epiphyte , a term for plants that grow not in soil, but on trees and other hosts sort of like a parasite.

Unlike parasites, epiphytes don't take nutrients from their hosts and don't necessarily cause any trouble for them. They tend to grow on the main trunk or large boughs of a living tree, often several feet off the ground, although they can be located much higher up in the canopy.

4. Its roots act like leaves

Doug Goldman / USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

The ghost orchid may not have leaves to speak of, but that doesn't mean it has given up on photosynthesis. Although its roots already have their hands full—they anchor the orchid onto its tree, while also taking in water and nutrients—they fill this role, too.

The roots contain the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis, rendering leaves unnecessary. The roots also feature small white marks known as pneumatodes, which perform the gas exchange needed for respiration and photosynthesis.

When the orchid isn't in bloom, the mass of roots looks like "unremarkable bits of green linguine," as National Geographic described them.

5. Its flowers look like they're floating in the forest

Josh O'Connor / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The greenish roots blend in with the bark of trees where ghost orchids grow, making them well-camouflaged when they aren't blooming, especially in the dimly lit understory.

During the brief window when they do bloom, the flower grows on a thin spike extending outward from the roots. The roots act like a puppeteer dressed to match the background, dangling the flower as if it's floating freely in the forest.

Although ghost orchid is undoubtedly its coolest name, the plant is also known as "palm polly" or the "white frog orchid," a reference to the pair of long, lateral tendrils from its lower petal that vaguely resemble the hind legs of a frog.

6. It smells kind of like apples, especially in the morning

At an undisclosed location in South Florida, about 13 ghost orchids abruptly bloomed in the summer of 2009, giving scientists a unique opportunity to study the species in the wild. That included a team of researchers who investigated the orchid's "floral headspace," using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to identify volatile compounds in the flower's scent.

They identified several organic chemicals known as terpenoids, the most abundant of which was (E,E)-α-farnesene, a compound found in the natural coating of apples, pears, and other fruits.

From about 5 centimeters (2 inches) away, "the floral scent of D. lindenii was readily detectable to the authors," they reported in the European Journal of Environmental Sciences, "and seemed to intensify at sunset." The fragrance was most potent in the early morning, they added, between 1 and 6 a.m. local time. "The scent can best be described as sweet-smelling and somewhat fruity," they wrote.

7. It was long thought to rely on just one moth for pollination

Politikaner / Wikimedia Commons

The ghost orchid's pollen is hidden deep within its flowers, and so it can only be pollinated by an insect with a proboscis long enough to reach all the way inside.

For ghost orchids, the long-tongued pollinator was long ago identified as the giant sphinx moth, which is native to South and Central America but relatively rare in North America, with only occasional sightings in Florida and a few other southern U.S. states.

It's widely described as the sole pollinator of ghost orchids, thanks to its long proboscis and a lack of evidence for any other pollinators. Its larvae feed on the pond apple tree, which is also an important host for ghost orchids.

8. Its pollination might not be as simple as we thought

Charles J. Sharp / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Despite conventional wisdom about the ghost orchid's reliance on giant sphinx moths, photos taken in Florida suggest the reality is more complicated.

Wildlife photographer Carlton Ward Jr. set up a camera trap in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, located just northwest of Big Cypress National Preserve , and caught images of five different moth species visiting ghost orchids. As National Geographic reports , two of these moths—the fig sphinx and pawpaw sphinx—had ghost orchid pollen on their heads.

This was later backed up by another photographer, Mac Stone, who captured images of a fig sphinx moth visiting a ghost orchid with the plant's pollen on its head. Both photographers also got photos of giant sphinx moths visiting ghost orchids, but none were carrying ghost-orchid pollen, raising the possibility that giant sphinx tongues are long enough to "steal" nectar from ghost orchids without actually pollinating them. These findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

If the ghost orchid really does have multiple pollinators—with or without the giant sphinx—it would be welcome news, since it would mean the orchid's reproduction doesn't depend entirely on one rare insect. And that may be especially valuable now, given the threat of pesticides and other factors fueling the widespread decline of insects around the world, including many important pollinators.

9. Its habitats are becoming more hazardous

In Florida, ghost orchids tend to grow on just three tree species—pop ash, pond apple, and bald cypress—but in Cuba, they've been found growing on at least 18 different host trees.

"Although populations of D. lindenii in southern Florida and Cuba are separated by only 600 km, this species appears to occupy two different habitats and colonizes a different set of host trees," researchers noted in a study published in Botanical Journal.

Ghost orchids in Florida also grow slightly higher off the ground than in Cuba, the authors noted, possibly because stagnant water prevents seedlings from growing on submerged tree surfaces during South Florida's rainy season.

In both countries, however, the ghost orchid's habitats "are undergoing rapid, irreversible change imposed by climate change and other factors," the researchers added. "Both regions, for example, are vulnerable to sea-level rise this century given their low elevation, and the severity and frequency of tropical cyclone activity is another concern."

Ghost orchids have already experienced a steady decline in the wild, and based on simulations of habitat changes, "hurricanes and similar disturbances could result in near-certain extinction in short time horizons," researchers reported in 2015, possibly within a period of 25 years.

The orchid faces another obstacle from encroaching human development, which is prompting changes in the water table and the fire cycle, according to a report published in the journal Wetland Science & Practice.

Yet another threat comes from the emerald ash borer , an invasive insect that kills ash trees. It hasn't reached Florida yet, but if it infects mature stands of pop ash trees in places like Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge —where 69% of all ghost orchids grow on pop ash—it could have a devastating effect on the species.

10. It has a problem with poachers, too

Along with its general rarity and remote, inhospitable habitat, the ghost orchid's camouflage makes it incredibly hard to find in the wild. That doesn't stop some people from trying, though, and not always for good reasons.

An estimated 2,000 ghost orchids live in the wild across South Florida, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), although a recent survey suggests there might be more.

While researchers want to know where those orchids are, the locations are often kept secret due to the threat of poachers, who may be willing to risk their lives in search of wild ghost orchids.

Although the rare plants may command a high price on the black market, this is stupid even beyond the obvious legal, ethical, and ecological reasons. Ghost orchids rarely survive removal from the wild.

11. It's very hard to cultivate, but one fungus seems to help

The ghost orchid not only tends to die when removed from its natural habitat, but it's also famously ill-suited to captivity in general.

Botanists long struggled to cultivate the orchid, hoping to create a population of captive-bred plants that could be periodically transplanted to help buffer their wild counterparts.

Although the ghost orchid has seemed impossible to cultivate, researchers have made some breakthroughs in recent years. Michael Kane, a professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, has been working with a team of researchers to bring ghost orchid seeds from the wild to a propagation lab, where they try to germinate the seeds under sterile conditions on a gelled medium and then transfer the plants into a greenhouse.

The key is not only recreating precise conditions that ghost orchids need to thrive, but also providing them with the right fungus. Ghost orchid seeds won't germinate unless they're infected with a specific mycorrhizal fungus, which provides energy for the germination and then grows on the plant's roots as part of a symbiotic relationship.

In the wild, ghost orchids seem to colonize trees with moist, corrugated bark that harbors fungi in the genus Ceratobasidium, and researchers have identified certain fungal strains that lead to higher germination rates.

Kane and his team have been so successful in cultivating ghost orchids that they've also begun reintroducing them to the wild. The researchers planted 80 orchids in the wild in 2015, achieving an 80% survival rate a year later, then followed up with 160 more orchids in 2016.

This alone may not save the species, especially if its habitats remain in danger, but it's still a big step toward preserving these incredible ghosts.

" An Obsessive Quest To Photograph Florida's Ghost Orchid Pollinators ."  Earth Touch News Network .

Sadler, James J. et al. " Fragrance Composition Of Dendrophylax Lindenii (Orchidaceae) Using A Novel Technique Applied In Situ ."  European Journal of Environmental Sciences , vol 1, no. 2, 2012, pp. 137-141, doi:10.14712/23361964.2015.56

Houlihan, P.R., Stone, M., Clem, S.E.  et al.  " Pollination ecology of the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ): A first description with new hypotheses for Darwin’s orchids ."  Scientific Reports, vol. 9, 2019, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-49387-4

Mújica, Ernesto B et al. " A Comparision Of Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax Lindenii) Habitats In Florida And Cuba, With Particular Reference To Seedling Recruitment And Mycorrhizal Fungi ."  Botanical Journal Of The Linnean Society , vol 186, no. 4, 2018, pp. 572-586, doi:10.1093/botlinnean/box106

Raventós, José et al . " Population Viability Analysis Of The Epiphytic Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax Lindenii) In Cuba ."  Biotropica , vol 47, no. 2, 2015, pp. 179-189, doi:10.1111/btp.12202

Clem, Shawn, and Michael Duever. " Hydrologic Changes Over 60 Years (1959-2019) In An Old-Growth Bald Cypress Swamp On A Rapidly Developing Landscape ."  Wetland Science & Practice , vol 36, no. 4, 2019, pp. 362-372.

Nguyen H. Hoang, et al. " Comparative seed germination and seedling development of the ghost orchid,  Dendrophylax lindenii  (Orchidaceae), and molecular identification of its mycorrhizal fungus from South Florida ."  Annals of Botany , vol. 119, 2017, pp. 379–393, doi:10.1093/aob/mcw220

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Ghost Orchid Growing & Care Guide

Cody Medina

The Ghost Orchid is a rare and enigmatic flower that captures the imagination of botanists and nature enthusiasts alike. With its delicate white petals and ethereal beauty, this elusive orchid has become the stuff of legends.

Found only in select regions of Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas, the Ghost Orchid has fascinated scientists and adventurers for centuries, drawing them into a world of mystery and intrigue.

We will discuss the captivating story of the Ghost Orchid, exploring its unique characteristics, its elusive nature, and the ongoing efforts to conserve and protect this extraordinary plant.

What is a Ghost Orchid?

The Ghost Orchid, scientifically known as Dendrophylax lindenii, is an enigmatic and mysterious flowering plant that has captured the fascination of botanists, nature enthusiasts, and orchid lovers alike. This rare and elusive orchid is native to the swamps and wetlands of Cuba, the Bahamas, and southern Florida in the United States.

The Ghost Orchid gets its intriguing name from its ethereal appearance, which gives it the illusion of being a ghostly apparition floating in the forest. Unlike most orchids, which rely on their green leaves for photosynthesis, the Ghost Orchid lacks chlorophyll and depends on its host trees for survival. It attaches itself to the trunks or branches of specific tree species, such as the bald cypress or pond apple, using its specialized aerial roots.

This unique adaptation allows the Ghost Orchid to extract nutrients and moisture from the air and rainwater, making it an epiphytic orchid. It is often found in shady and humid habitats, nestled among the dense foliage of its host trees. Due to its elusive nature and specific habitat requirements, the Ghost Orchid is considered one of the rarest and most endangered orchids in the world.

The Ghost Orchid has a distinctive appearance that sets it apart from other orchids. It typically has a single, white, waxy flower that blooms from a long, slender stem. The flower is about three inches wide and has a delicate, ethereal beauty. The petals and sepals are long and slender, and the lip is fringed with intricate, thread-like structures that resemble delicate tendrils. The fragrance of the Ghost Orchid is said to be intoxicating, often described as a blend of jasmine and honeysuckle.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Ghost Orchid is its blooming behavior. Unlike most orchids, which have predictable flowering seasons, the Ghost Orchid is known for its sporadic and unpredictable blooming patterns. It can go several years without blooming, making the sight of a blooming Ghost Orchid a truly special and rare event.

Where is the Ghost Orchid native?

Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, the Ghost Orchid has a relatively small distribution range. It can be found in various countries such as Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. However, within the United States, the Ghost Orchid is limited to specific states, making it a truly unique and treasured native species.

Within the United States, this plant is primarily found in the southern region of Florida. This includes areas such as the Everglades National Park, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. These locations offer the ideal habitat for the Ghost Orchid, with their humid and swampy environments providing the necessary conditions for its growth and survival.

While the Ghost Orchid’s range is mostly concentrated in Florida, there have been a few rare sightings of the orchid in other states. These sightings are considered rare and sporadic, making the Ghost Orchid a true botanical gem for those lucky enough to witness it outside of its primary habitat. Some of the states where it has been occasionally spotted include Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

It is important to note that locating the Ghost Orchid can be quite challenging, as it tends to grow high up in the canopy of trees, often hidden from view. Furthermore, due to its rarity and protected status, its exact locations are often kept confidential to prevent unauthorized collection or disturbance.

How to start from seed

Known for its ethereal beauty and ghostly appearance, this orchid has captured the imaginations of many. While it is notoriously difficult to cultivate, starting Ghost Orchids from seed can be a rewarding and exciting endeavor.

  • Acquiring Ghost Orchid Seeds: Obtaining seeds can be a challenge, as this species is endangered and protected in many areas. However, there are specialized orchid nurseries and conservation organizations that may have a limited supply of seeds available for purchase or for research purposes. It is important to ensure that the seeds are obtained legally and ethically.
  • Creating the Ideal Growing Environment: Ghost Orchids are epiphytic orchids, meaning they naturally grow on trees rather than in soil. To recreate their natural habitat, you will need to create a suitable growing environment. Start by selecting a container or tray with good drainage. Fill it with a mixture of sphagnum moss, tree fern fiber, and orchid bark to provide a loose and well-draining medium for the seeds.
  • Sterilizing the Growing Medium: Before planting the Ghost Orchid seeds, it is crucial to sterilize the growing medium to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria or fungi. This can be done by heating the medium in an oven at a temperature of 180°F (82°C) for about 30 minutes. Allow it to cool completely before proceeding.
  • Sowing the Seeds: Carefully scatter the Ghost Orchid seeds onto the surface of the sterilized growing medium. Since Ghost Orchid seeds are extremely small and dust-like, they should be handled with great care. Avoid burying or covering the seeds, as they require light for germination. Gently mist the surface of the medium with water to ensure the seeds adhere to it.
  • Creating a Humid Environment: Ghost Orchid seeds require high levels of humidity for successful germination. To create a humid environment, cover the container or tray with a clear plastic lid or wrap it with plastic wrap. This will help retain moisture and create a mini greenhouse effect. Place the container in a warm and well-lit area, away from direct sunlight.
  • Patience and Monitoring: Germination of Ghost Orchid seeds can be a slow process, often taking several months or even up to a year. It is important to be patient and not disturb the seeds during this time. Regularly monitor the growing medium’s moisture levels, ensuring it remains consistently moist but not overly wet. Mist the medium lightly whenever it starts to dry out.
  • Transplanting and Care: Once the Ghost Orchid seedlings have developed several leaves and are large enough to handle, they can be carefully transplanted into individual pots. Use a well-draining orchid mix and provide them with proper orchid care, including regular watering, indirect sunlight, and appropriate temperature and humidity levels. Ghost Orchids are delicate and require special attention, so it is essential to research their specific care requirements.

How to grow this plant in your garden

With its ethereal appearance and elusive nature, cultivating the Ghost Orchid can be a rewarding but challenging endeavor. This guide helps with the essential steps and considerations for successfully growing this plant in your garden.

  • Understanding the Ghost Orchid’s Natural Habitat: The first step in growing the Ghost Orchid is to gain a thorough understanding of its natural habitat. These orchids are primarily found in the swamps and wetlands of Florida and Cuba, where they grow in dense, shaded areas. The Ghost Orchid typically grows on the trunks and branches of trees, often near water bodies. Recreating these conditions is crucial for the successful cultivation of this elusive orchid.
  • Providing the Ideal Growing Environment: To grow Ghost Orchids, it is essential to replicate their natural environment as closely as possible. This includes providing the right amount of light, humidity, and temperature. The Ghost Orchid thrives in dappled shade and prefers high humidity levels. You can achieve this by placing the orchid in a terrarium or greenhouse with controlled conditions. Use a humidifier or mist the orchid regularly to maintain the appropriate humidity level.
  • Selecting the Right Potting Medium: Choosing the correct potting medium is crucial for the Ghost Orchid’s growth. These orchids prefer a loose, well-draining medium that mimics the tree bark they naturally grow on. A popular choice is a mix of sphagnum moss and tree fern fiber. This combination provides sufficient moisture retention while allowing water to drain away, preventing root rot.
  • Watering and Feeding: Proper watering is vital for the Ghost Orchid’s well-being. It is essential to maintain consistently moist but not waterlogged conditions. Water the orchid when the potting medium feels slightly dry to the touch. Ensure that excess water drains away to prevent stagnant conditions. Fertilize the Ghost Orchid with a balanced orchid fertilizer every few weeks during the growing season to provide necessary nutrients.
  • Propagation Techniques: Propagating Ghost Orchids can be challenging due to their specific requirements. One common method is through seed germination, which requires careful sterilization and dedication. Another option is vegetative propagation, where you separate keikis (baby orchids) from the mother plant and grow them individually. Both methods require patience and expertise but can lead to successful propagation.

Growing the Ghost Orchid is a rewarding but demanding endeavor that requires careful attention to its unique requirements. By understanding its natural habitat, providing the ideal growing environment, selecting the right potting medium, watering, and feeding appropriately. Additionally, by exploring propagation techniques, you can increase your chances of successfully cultivating this elusive and captivating orchid. Remember to approach this process with patience and a sense of wonder, as the Ghost Orchid truly is a remarkable treasure of the botanical world.

Interesting facts about Ghost Orchid

The Ghost Orchid is a rare and mysterious orchid species that has captured the fascination of botanists and nature enthusiasts alike. Here are some intriguing facts about this enigmatic flower:

  • Elusive and Rare: The Ghost Orchid is one of the rarest orchids in the world. It is native to the swamps and hammocks of Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas. Due to its elusive nature and specific habitat requirements, it is challenging to spot in the wild. This rarity has contributed to the Ghost Orchid’s aura of mystique.
  • Non-photosynthetic Lifestyle: Unlike most plants, they do not rely on photosynthesis to obtain energy. Instead, it obtains nutrients from the surrounding environment. It achieves this by forming a symbiotic relationship with specific fungi, which provide the Ghost Orchid with necessary nutrients. This unique adaptation allows the orchid to survive in low-light environments such as the shaded swamps it calls home.
  • Ethereal Blooms: The Ghost Orchid produces delicate, white, and ghostly flowers, which give it its name. Each flower is typically around three inches in diameter and has a distinctive structure. The blooms are solitary and appear to float in mid-air, as they emerge from the stem without any visible leaves.
  • Fragrant Night Bloomer: The Ghost Orchid’s blooms are known for their captivating fragrance, which is described as a mix of sweet and citrusy notes. Interestingly, these flowers only open at night, releasing their scent to attract pollinators like moths and nocturnal insects. This nocturnal blooming behavior adds to the allure of this plant.
  • Endangered Status: Due to habitat destruction, illegal collection, and climate change, the Ghost Orchid is considered critically endangered. Protection efforts and conservation projects are underway to preserve and restore its natural habitats. The Ghost Orchid’s vulnerability and rarity make it a prized find for orchid enthusiasts, but it is crucial to prioritize its conservation.
  • Pop Culture Fame: The Ghost Orchid gained significant public attention after its portrayal in the non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean, which was later adapted into the film “Adaptation.” This exposure brought the Ghost Orchid into the mainstream consciousness and further fueled interest in this remarkable and elusive flower.
  • Research and Discovery: Despite being studied for over a century, there is still much to learn about this plant. Scientists continue to explore its unique adaptations, symbiotic relationships, and genetic makeup. Each new discovery adds to our understanding of this fascinating plant and its intricate ecological role.

It is a captivating and mysterious orchid species that has captured the curiosity of botanists and nature lovers alike. Its rarity, non-photosynthetic lifestyle, ethereal blooms, endangered status, and cultural significance make it a plant of great interest and conservation concern. As we continue to uncover its secrets, the Ghost Orchid serves as a reminder of the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

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Facts About The Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid

Ghost orchid is a perennial orchid that is an epiphyte in nature. Lindenii in its scientific name is actually a name of a famous botanist from Belgium. This orchid was identified by Jean Jules Linden in 1844 in Cuba. It is a unique plant in the sense that there are no leaves and what one gets to see is only a thin network of roots wrapped around the branches of the host tree. These roots produce spikes that grow and bear flowers. The reason why this orchid is referred to as Ghost orchid is because of the fact that its flowers appear to be suspended in air like a ghost.

Facts about the Ghost Orchid

  • Habitat: Cuba, Bahamas, and Florida
  • Scientific name: Dendrophylax lindenii
  • Other common names: Ghost orchid, white frog orchid, palm polly

It is a rare species of orchids because it is very difficult to cultivate in home conditions. It loves its natural habitat that includes marshes and swamps where there are a lot of damp and humid conditions. It is difficult to identify this orchid even in its natural habitat because their roots grow on the branches of trees. The roots perform the functions of photosynthesis and they also help to absorb moisture for the plant. These roots have different shades like grey, green and white and they blend well with the color of the bark of the tree on which they grow. As these plants have no leaves and bloom for a short time period (3 weeks during April and August), it is easy to overlook them even in their natural habitat. One ingenious method to identify this orchid in its natural habitat is through the smell of this plant. Ghost orchid produces soap like smell when it is blooming.

If you take a look at the flowers of this orchid, you see either a white frog flying in the air or a ghost floating in air from here and there. This could be quite intimidating for anyone moving in the natural habitat of this orchid in Everglades or a forest in Cuba. As far as structure of the flowers is concerned, it has three sepals and three white petals. What is surprising is that Ghost orchid produces only one flower at a time. However, there have been plants that produced up to 10 flowers at the same time. After maturing, Ghost orchid plant can go without flowering for many years.

The flowers of Ghost orchid bloom are seen blooming between May and August every year. The flowers can grow up to a size of 4-5 inches. These flowers last up to a period of 14 days. The pollens are secured deep inside the flower that are accessed only a by a giant moth with large antennae. Pollination can be done by hand by using cotton swabs and then inserting these swabs into the flowers of the female ghost orchid plant.

It is very difficult to grow Ghost orchids in home conditions as you need to recreate conditions of very high humidity and high temperatures. This plant needs diffused light conditions and also frequent misting to grow. This is the reason why ghost orchids have been grown inside greenhouses only.

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North American Orchid Conservation Center

North American Orchid Conservation Center

Dendrophylax lindenii (lindl.) benth. ex rolfe, ghost orchid, palm polly.

the ghost orchid flower

Facts About

Accepted Synonyms: Aeranthes lindenii, Polyradicion lindenii, Polyrrhiza lindenii Dendrophylax lindenii, the Ghost Orchid, grows in Cuba and the West Indies and Florida where it was known to occur in three southern counties. The Ghost Orchid is leafless with chlorophyllous roots that are gray-green in color with short white markings and are 3-5 mm wide to over 50 cm long. During May-August, a small percentage of the plants produce one white flower, rarely two, with sepals and petal that are similar. The labellum is 3-lobed with the center lobe triangular in shape, flanked by two elongated, tapered lobes. This orchid grows on several tree species in hardwood hammocks, tramways and sloughs, and cypress domes. Although Dendrophylax lindenii is considered vulnerable across its range, in Florida, this orchid is endangered where it is threatened by illegal collection and disruption of wetland hydrology.

Pollination

It was once believed that the night flying Giant Sphinx Moth, Cocytius antaeus, was the only insect in North America with a long enough proboscis to reach the nectar in this orchid's long spur and pollinate its flowers. Recent field work has documented other moth species such as Eumorpha labruscae and Protambulyx shigilis visiting the flowers and two other moths, Dolba hyloeus and Pachylia ficus were observed with ghost orchid pollinia on their heads.

Ecosystem Type

Swamps, woodlands

Characteristics

  • the labellum has a spur
  • the labellum is lobed

May - August

  • the lateral petals are ascending
  • the lateral petals are spreading

Fruits or seeds

Growth form, facts and uses, native to north america, north american conservation status & distribution, conservation status.

Select a location to view conservation status:

North America Distribution

Adapted from USDA data

Discovery reveals secrets about how ghost orchids reproduce

Incredible photos show multiple species pollinate the rare and enigmatic flower, which is good news for the endangered species..

Moths pollinating rare ghost orchids.

Deep in remote Florida swamps, a team of researchers and photographers have made a new discovery that upends what we thought we knew about the ghost orchid, one of the world’s most iconic flowers, and how it reproduces.

These rare, charming orchids were long thought to be pollinated by a single insect: the giant sphinx moth. This massive creature sounds like a miniature jet as it zooms through the swamp with a six-inch wingspan, says conservation scientist Peter Houlihan .

The Everglades wetlands were once dominated by large cypress trees, home to epiphytes and orchids, like ...

But now, photographs by Carlton Ward Jr. and Mac Stone show that a couple of moth species other than the giant sphinx visit and carry the ghost orchid ’s pollen—and the giant sphinx itself may play a completely different role than previously thought.

These results provide insight into the plant’s virtually unknown reproductive biology, and they suggest that conserving the endangered species may be less difficult than assumed, since it’s not dependent on only one pollinator, says Houlihan, who collaborated with Ward and Stone to make the discovery. The findings also show the ghost orchids can be important food sources for moths.

“It’s very good news,” Stone says.

Ghost orchids are found in Florida and Cuba, and there are only about 2,000 ghost orchids in the state. As few as 10 percent of them flower each year during an unpredictable window in the summer. The plant has no leaves, consisting of green roots that cling to the bark of several tree species. When they aren’t blooming, they look like unremarkable bits of green linguine, and are difficult to find.

They also generally live in swamps that are not easy to access—and home to animals such as bears, panthers, alligators, and several venomous snake species, which dissuades many from attempting to see one.

Orchid fever

On a recent summer day in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge , home to a quarter of the state’s ghosts, I spent many hours searching for one in bloom with Ward and refuge biologist Mark Danaher. We hiked through knee-deep water the colour of sweet tea from early morning until afternoon, marveling at the abundance of diversity of air plants and orchids. When we finally found a ghost, it was really magic.

The plant’s bright white, delicate flowers seem to hover above its stems, and the modified petals have long, curly legs that flutter in the breeze. In the centre of the flower is the entrance to a tube called a nectar spur, which contains sweet secretions. Ideally, the nectar will attract a moth, which will elongate its tongue-like proboscis and stick its head into the tube. If all goes well, the moth will contact the plant’s bundle of pollen, called a pollinium, which will stick to its head, and hopefully be carried on to fertilize another ghost .

These orchids have long nectar spurs, stretching five inches or more in length, though this varies. Given the size of the tube, it has long been thought that only the giant sphinx moths would be capable of reaching the nectar.

But when Ward set up several remote camera traps in this wildlife refuge, he documented five species of moths visiting these ghost orchids. Two of these species, fig sphinx ( Pachylia ficus ) and rustic sphinx ( Manduca rustica ), had ghost orchid pollinia on their heads.

Stone and Houlihan worked out of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary , one of the world’s largest old-growth cypress forests, a 45-minute drive to the northwest.

The sanctuary, owned and operated by the National Audubon Society, has set up a scope for visitors to see a massive ghost orchid, known as the “super ghost.” This flower sits 50 feet up on a cypress, and it’s the only ghost that is relatively easy to see. The orchid currently has eight flowers, “which is just insane,” Stone says—most plants put out only one flower at a time.

In 2018, Stone (assisted by Houlihan) spent countless hours setting up a camera on this orchid, tree-climbing and tinkering.

Biologist Peter Houlihan sets up a light trap 90-feet in a cypress tree. Attracted to different ...

Stone, who lives in South Carolina, says that during the height of the work last summer, he’d often lay awake at night thinking about how to perfect the shots. “I’d book a last-minute flight and then just move my camera an inch,” he says. “It was just madness.”

All experienced a bit of orchid fever. “I do think it’s possible that orchids drive people crazy,” Ward says: The two photographers had their cameras trained on the flowers for a total of 7,000 hours.

But all this work paid off. In August Mac captured photos of a fig sphinx visiting the flower with ghost orchid pollinia on its head, complementing Ward’s pictures of the same in the panther refuge. Results from the collaborators have been submitted but have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Both photographers also revealed giant sphinxes visiting the ghosts—but the insects weren't carrying any pollinia. In one shot by Stone, the moth can clearly by seen drinking nectar, but its head is not nearly close enough to the flower to pick up the pollinium.

This led to a wild hypothesis: Perhaps the giant sphinxes steal nectar from the ghost orchids without pollinating them, Houlihan says. His research also turned up a dozen local hawkmoth species (including Pachylia ficus and Manduca rustica ) that have tongues that are long enough to theoretically sup the orchid’s sugar.

“There are probably lots of moths that can pollinate these flowers,” he says.

Blame Darwin

There are many flower species that are pollinated by a single moth or butterfly.

Most famously, in 1862, Darwin examined a Madagascar orchid now named after him (Darwin’s orchid, or Angraecum sesquipedale ) that has a foot-long nectar tube. He was somewhat exasperated, as he hadn’t heard of any moth with a 12-inch tongue. “Good heavens,” he wrote, “what insect can suck it?” He hypothesised that there must be an insect in the area with just such a proboscis.

He was proven right 130 years later, when Morgan’s sphinx moth ( Xanthopan morganii ) was seen feeding from the orchid with its huge tongue. Houlihan’s studies of this moth, funded by the National Geographic Society, helped lead to his work on ghost orchids.

This example may have rubbed off on people’s thinking about the ghost orchid, says Larry Zettler , an orchid expert at Illinois College. “Everyone assumed the same kind of thing would happen with the ghost orchid, because you don’t have this massive nectar spur for no reason,” he says.

But having multiple pollinators, which apparently isn’t the case for Darwin’s orchid, will help to provide more opportunities for the ghost orchid to successfully reproduce.

“It’s good to have redundancy in ecosystems,” says Mike Owen, a biologist at Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve , where he and his colleagues have discovered 450 ghost orchids since 1993.

Orchid thieves

Two months after Owen started his job, horticulturist John Laroche, along with two members of the Seminole tribe, were stopped while attempting to remove dozens of valuable air plants and orchids from the preserve. This haul including three ghost orchids—a story told, along with the giant-sphinx-only pollination theory, in Susan Orleans’ book The Orchid Thief and the film based on it, Adaptation .

Since that time, the reserve has introduced various measures to reduce poaching, such as installing camera traps. The same is true in the panther refuge, Danaher says, where more than 40 cameras have been installed to catch photos of wildlife and would-be poachers.

Poaching is not only illegal, but a terrible idea, because ghost orchids invariably die after being moved even slightly, Owen says. They require very specific micro-environments, which is why they thrive in Florida’s swamps, where flowing water slowly passes through, moderating temperatures and humidity. Fakahatchee Strand, a channel of low-lying, oft-flooded strand forest has the highest diversity of air plants and orchids in the continental U.S.

Development in South Florida has severely altered water flows that are so vital to the ecosystem and the orchids, but the importance of this untrammeled flow is being increasingly recognized.

The importance of old-growth

It’s also crucial to conserve remaining old-growth forests, which are home to ghosts and many other rare plants and animals, says Shawn Clem , research director for the sanctuary.

A lake in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, where ghost orchid pollination was documented by ...

The super ghost itself shows people that the flower is not an abstract concept—but a very real plant that depends on a healthy flow of water to survive, she says. The new discovery about the ghosts’ pollinators “speaks to the need for conserving places like Corkscrew so that we can continue to understand the complex ecology of the region,” Clem adds.

Cypress trees once covered much or most of southwestern Florida, and Corkscrew offers a glimpse of how the land once appeared. Many trees reach to heights of around a hundred feet, and some of them are about 600 years old.

The super ghost is by far the highest situated of its species, and one of only few known to occur in cypress trees. But Houlihan and Stone think that, once, it was probably a common scenario—and these highly perched plants were likely incredibly important for seeding the understory below.

“This is just one reason why these old-growth forests are so important,” Stone says.

The plants produce hundreds of thousands of tiny seeds, which are distributed by air currents, and as you can imagine, it’s easier for seeds to drift downward from a high spot than to be lifted upward.

When the seeds land in a choice spot, they must also come into contact with the right kind of fungus. This is the case for all orchids, and many of them require an individual species. Zettler recently discovered that ghost orchids can only germinate in the presence of one species, in the genus Ceratobasidium .

That being said, Mike Kane , a horticulturist at the University of Florida, has figured out how to cultivate ghost orchids in the lab. That discovery has already helped to increase the supply of plants, some of which have been replanted to the wild, in places like the panther refuge.

There, and in the Fakahatchee and Big Cypress National Preserve, the ghost orchids are primarily found in pop ash trees, followed by pond apples. These trees are much shorter than cypresses, and many of the ghost orchids there are only a few feet off the ground.

When I finally saw my first such bloom, chest-high, with lip-like petals and a striking bright white colour, I began to see how orchids hold such strange power over people. Ward is a good example.

After seeing his first flowering ghost in July 2012, in the Fakahatchee preserve, he returned for three days in a row to get the right shot—and has been photographing them ever since.

“The ghost orchid motivated me to explore these swamps,” Ward says, “and I hope its story can inspire others to protect the places where it lives.”

  • Environment and Conservation
  • Invertebrates

the ghost orchid flower

These Photos Reveal the Pollination Secrets of Florida’s Most Elusive Flower

The ghost orchid is one of the rarest and most mysterious flowers in North America. Until recently, scientists could only guess at how the 2,000 or so plants that cling to the trees in Florida’s remote old-growth swamp forests are pollinated—no one had ever photographed the event before.

The ethereal flowers thrive in difficult-to-access, flooded forests and are only pollinated at night by, it’s long been assumed, a moth. The giant sphinx moth, with a proboscis long enough to reach deep into the flower’s nectar tube, was a prime suspect.

Photographer Mac Stone became captivated by this enigma after friends took him deep into a Florida swamp to a secret glade teeming with hundreds of dangling ghost orchids. In the summer of 2018, he put his climbing skills and technical prowess to use to help finally solve it. Stone enlisted Peter Houlihan, a conservation scientist from the Florida Museum of Natural History who had spent more than five frustrating years trying to catch a giant sphinx moth in the act. For months the two men climbed a tree in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary that hosts a ghost orchid, setting a camera trap, waiting diligently.

Their persistence paid off, and Stone’s photographs are among the first to both confirm scientists’ hunch and point to a surprise twist. “We’re rewriting the history of this orchid,” Stone says.

Ghost orchids—so named for their white color and thin, leafless stems that make the blooms appear to float in the air—prefer swampy, tropical forests and are found in small numbers in south Florida and Cuba. In the Everglades some hide in the canopy of tall trees, far from human reach. Those closer to the ground may fall prey to poachers, who pluck the delicate flowers from trunks and branches, flouting state endangered species laws. Unlocking secrets of the orchid’s ecology could help provide the scientific data and public awareness needed for the plant to gain federal status, says Houlihan. That would bring steeper fines for poachers as well as trigger funding to better protect the flowers and their habitat.

Stone and Houlihan didn’t have to scour the Everglades to find a flower—one was visible from the boardwalk at Corkscrew Sanctuary, 50 feet up in a towering cypress. The sanctuary has a unique, multi-stemmed “super” ghost orchid visible from the boardwalk, pictured above, that winds through the swamp forest. Audubon staff worked with the duo to ensure the project didn’t harm any of the centuries-old trees in the refuge. They also provided Stone and Houlihan with guest housing on the premises, giving them easy access to their subject. “We were hoping they would get that million-dollar image,” says Shawn Clem, research director at the sanctuary.

Scientists have long suspected that the giant sphinx moth, which boasts a five- to seven-inch wingspan, was the sole ghost-orchid pollinator. Look closely, and you’ll see there’s more than just tree bark in this photo. Stone happened upon this slumbering giant sphinx moth when he and Houlihan were climbing a cypress tree in Corkscrew. When Stone showed it to Houlihan, the latter was stunned that Stone had found one of the insects, given their rarity and effective camouflage.

Houlihan, pictured above, learned about the ghost orchid after moving to Florida in 2012. He had conducted research on a very similar orchid in Madagascar, and he was surprised that nobody had documented its pollination. Then he started working in the Everglades. “Nobody’s willing to endure this masochism to figure this out,” he says, laughing. He tried multiple approaches over more than five years: He set up trail cameras he hoped would be triggered by a large moth but never were; he sat on ladders, infrared camera in hand, for hours on end waiting to press the shutter when the moths appeared, but they never did. Houlihan slept in the swamp, donating countless drops of blood to south Florida mosquitos. By the time Stone asked for his help, Houlihan was about to give up. “My first response was kind of like, ‘Good luck,’” he says. But he knew Stone and liked the idea of spending a few months climbing trees, so he agreed to give the project—and the mosquitos—one final summer.

Ghost orchid pollination is a game of floral roulette. Not every flower that blooms is visited by a pollinator. Stone, pictured above, knew chances were slim that he’d be sitting at the right flower at the right time. So he used a cutting-edge camera that fires when it senses movement and slight temperature change, indicating a living creature has moved into the frame. Obsessed with the perfect shot, throughout the summer the South Carolina–based photographer made last-minute trips to Florida to tweak his camera settings and position. At first, Stone secured his equipment to an existing limb (pictured here). Worried that it wasn’t sturdy enough, he ultimately fashioned a steel arm that he strapped to the tree to hold the gear.

About three weeks in, Stone’s camera snapped a photo of a giant sphinx moth, above, visiting the flower. These photographs are among the very first to document the pollination of the ghost orchid. Scientists had long suspected the giant sphinx moth of doing the deed. 

But the cameras captured a fig sphinx moth, above, visiting the orchid, too, and only it has a visible orange packet of pollen on its nose. This suggests the fig sphinx moth, which has to get closer to the flower to access its nectar and thus may pick up more pollen, might be doing more to pollinate it—though it may have help. Photographer Carlton Ward, who was also trying to capture the elusive behavior at the nearby Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge last summer, documented six types of moths feeding on ghost orchids. Together, Stone’s and Ward’s images have upended long-held assumptions about ghost orchid pollination.

Stone and Houlihan also set about getting a close-up look at the moths from the ground. Houlihan broke out the light-trapping gear he used during his own ghost orchid search. As the beacon attracted insects to the cloth, a storm formed in the distance, allowing Stone to snap this captivating image of science in action.

For the first time, Houlihan, pictured above, managed to attract a giant sphinx moth to his light trap. Based on Stone’s photos, Houlihan thinks the insect’s proboscis might actually be too long to pollinate the ghost orchid. This means the sphinx could simply be stealing nectar from the ghost, without helping to pollinate it—leaving that to the fig sphinx moth and the other moths that Ward documented.

The “super” orchid in Corkscrew that facilitated Houlihan and Stone’s discovery was itself only discovered in 2007. Clem, the sanctuary’s research director, wonders what other magnificent discoveries might be made there in the future. She says that solving the pollination mystery underscores the importance of preserving wild and fragile places like Corkscrew, which faces multiple threats.

Development around the sanctuary is changing the swamp’s hydrology, making less water available even as climate change is causing the region to become drier. If habitat becomes too arid, the trees in the sanctuary and beyond that the ghost orchids depend on might not survive. “The old-growth bald cypress that we have is not something that could be re-created through restoration,” Clem says. “Once you lose it, it’s gone.” This discovery, and the awareness and funding scientists hope it will inspire, could help the swamp, the ancient trees, and the mysteries that cling to them survive an uncertain future.

This story originally ran in the Summer 2019 issue as  “Catching a Ghost. ”  To receive our print magazine, become a member by  making a donation today .

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a pair of ghost orchids

Florida’s rare ghost orchids are getting cut off from water

Human activities are threatening these stunning, strange flowers, just as scientists are beginning to understand them.

The rare ghost orchid grows primarily in three protected areas in South Florida. Its stunning flowers have enchanted people around the world.

The ghost orchid is an unusual, and unusually beautiful, flower found only in Cuba and the flooded forests of South Florida, where there are about 2,000 of the plants. This species, which draws its moisture from the air, has no leaves. Rather, its green stems cling like bits of linguine to trees, anchoring it to its host. Most of the year, the ghost orchid is unremarkable.

But when it blooms, it stuns. The flower is a striking white, standing out against the shaded green swamps it calls home. Its petals have two long, delicate tails that flutter in the breeze, and it seems to hover in the air. An umbrella species , the ghost orchid survives only in intact forests with high levels of humidity, which protect it from winter freezes, drought, and wildfire.

One of the only places you can easily see a ghost orchid is the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary , the United States' largest old-growth bald cypress forest. And the draw here is no ordinary ghost orchid but a massive plant known as the "super ghost." Found 50 feet up a cypress tree—a position that has protected it from poachers—visitors can behold it through a spotting scope on site.

This super ghost, which may consist of multiple intertwined plants, produces more than 40 flowers in summer and can easily have up to 10 or more in bloom simultaneously.

“That’s just insane,” says photographer Mac Stone, as most ghost orchids in the wild put out one or two flowers at a time.

But this super ghost, and other ghost orchids, may be in trouble. New research shows that Corkscrew is drying out. Its marshes and seasonally flooded forests now experience longer dry periods, dry out more quickly, and have less water overall, according to a new paper published in the journal Wetland Science & Practice .

While the paper, co-authored by Shawn Clem, the sanctuary’s research director, and hydrologist Michael Duever, focuses only on Corkscrew Swamp, scientists and conservationists say that most of Florida’s ghost orchids are threatened by the same problem—land use changes and development are limiting water flow to the critical habitats where they’re found.

Threat of development

Florida’s ghost orchids are mostly found in protected areas: national wildlife refuges, state preserves and state forests, and private sanctuaries like Corkscrew. All these places have what orchids and other air plants, or epiphytes, need—high humidity caused by standing water during the wet season, which starts in late spring and lasts through fall. (Learn how to photograph an orchid from a National Geographic photographer.)

Historically, ghost orchids have been able to survive the dry season because it didn’t last long enough for them to dry out. In Corkscrew, for example, from 1960 to 2000, the water ran dry in the cypress forests for two months of the year at most, according to the study. But in recent years, Corkscrew sees more than three parched months a year. In some places, it’s potentially enough to harm the plants, says Peter Houlihan , a conservation scientist and National Geographic Explorer who studies the orchids.

“Historically, that would’ve never happened,” Houlihan says. These dry spells can cause local die-offs of ghost orchids. “It’s just an example of how delicate the ghost orchid is.”

Clem and Duever’s paper suggests multiple causes for the reduction in water, most of which are linked to development. These causes include diversion by canals (which keep water off of roads and out of neighborhoods), increased extraction by suburbs and agriculture, and less green space for water storage. A lack of natural fires has also driven a change in plant cover from grasses to large plants like shrubs that use more water.

It’s a lesson that we can’t merely create a wildlife preserve and sit back, says Clem. The plants, animals, and entire ecosystem still must be defended from threats outside the sanctuary’s boundaries.

“We can’t just put a fence around a place and assume it will solve all problems. We need to think about how we’re managing the water” and protecting its flow, says Robert Sobczak , a hydrologist with Big Cypress National Preserve, home to about a thousand ghost orchids, the most found anywhere.

Development beyond borders

Almost all the places in Florida where ghost orchids are found have had their hydrology altered by development in surrounding areas. In Big Cypress, for example, the landscape is significantly drier in the last 15 years than it has been historically, he says.

“It’s currently a dry October,” Sobczak says over the phone, while visiting a cypress dome, one of the large circular stands of trees found throughout the preserve. “This dome should be filled.” While he can’t yet draw a direct connection from the lack of water to dying ghost orchids in Big Cypress, it does have him and his colleague Tony Pernas worried.

“I am concerned,” says Pernas, a botanist and chief of resource management at the preserve. “Ghost orchids have a niche in the deeper water areas of the swamp, so even a few-inch decline in water levels could lead to wildfires that could destroy their population.” Just in the past two years, blazes have swept through 30,000 acres of Big Cypress, much of it prime ghost orchid habitat.

The situation is more urgent in Picayune Strand State Forest. Like elsewhere in the area (except Corkscrew), its old-growth cypress forests were logged in the 1940s and 1950s. Shortly thereafter, canal-building and road development began for a planned community called Southern Golden Gate Estates, which was envisioned as the largest subdivision in the world. The plan eventually fell apart, but the draining of this area and the subsequent lowering of the water table have seriously harmed its plant life, including its ghost orchids, according to Mike Owen, a biologist with Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, just to the east of Picayune.

“Picayune doesn’t have a lot of ghost orchids anymore, though they used to,” Owen says. “That’s due in part to reductions in the hydroperiod,” he adds, referring to the period when the ground is covered in water. The shorter hydroperiod, he says, is caused by a series of canals still found on the property.

Flow to Fakahatchee Preserve and the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, which together are home to about half of the state’s ghost orchids, also lose water to a canal along State Road 29. This two-lane thoroughfare, which the state wants to widen to four lanes, runs north from Everglades City on the coast to the southwest interior, shunting water away from conservation lands and into the ocean.

Reason for hope

Restoration programs and careful planning can help, however. Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, for example, has plugged two canals that cut through the land and used to divert water to the west. Owen says that since that change, water levels have gone up more than a foot in the preserve, which is infamous as the location where a man named John Laroche was arrested in 1994 while attempting to steal ghost orchids and other epiphytes, a tale recounted in The Orchid Thief and the film Adaptation . (Read more: Are traders and traffickers winning the orchid battle? )

“I think it’s a wakeup call” to keep healthy levels of water flowing into protected areas, says Sobczak of the paper by Clem and Duever. While Corkscrew is closer to suburban developments than most of the orchids’ other habitats, subdivisions are spreading. As they inch closer to protected areas, hydrological changes could affect them all.

There’s so much more to learn about the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ), Houlihan says. That’s why it’s important their habitat is protected. For example, a September 2019 paper by Houlihan, Stone, Clem, Owen, and Thomas Emmel—along with observations by a team led by photographer Carlton Ward in Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge—showed that ghost orchids are pollinated by more than a single species of moth, as scientists previously believed. This discovery not only provides insight into the plant’s virtually unknown reproductive biology, but it also suggests that conserving the ghost orchid may be less difficult than assumed, because it’s not dependent on only one pollinator. (Read more about the discovery here .)

The plight of the orchid has also prompted several scientists and conservationists to try to get the species protection under the Endangered Species Act. Owen and others are working on producing data to support a proposal for listing, which they hope to submit in the near future. An Endangered Species Act listing for the orchid would give greater protection to its habitat as well.

“We need to protect areas like Corkscrew,” Clem says, “so we can continue to understand the ecology...and conserve some of the really unique wildlife and plants that live here.”

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ghost orchid

Homestead Stories: The Ghost Orchid

Author: Emily-Jane Hills Orford // Last updated on September 6, 2023 Leave a Comment

With Halloween around the corner and the thought of ghosts and goblins prowling the darkened nights, how about a real flower that looks like a ghost?

Yes, that’s right. There is actually a flower called a ghost orchid, and its tiny, spindly flower with no leaves, looks eerily like a ghost clinging to the bark of trees.

Not found outside of Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba, the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ) is sadly, becoming an endangered species. In Florida, there are around 2,000 ghost orchids. About 10 percent of them flower in a year, and only during a brief and unpredictable period of time in summer.

In fact, ghost orchids living for decades may only bloom a couple of times! It’s a shame to think the fragile, unique (and ghostly) apparitions that are both flowers and orchids, could disappear forever. Poof!

View this post on Instagram Photo by @CarltonWard | The seductive ghost orchid survives in remote South Florida swamps, usually hanging from twisted branches of a pond apple or pop ash tree forming cathedral arches above shadowed wetlands. Approximately 2,000 ghost orchids are known to exist, of which a small fraction bloom each year, and even a smaller number are pollinated. Once sought by collectors and smugglers, the ghost orchid is surrounded by cultural lore, including the book The Orchid Thief and movie Adaptation. Even today, the exact locations of these rare plants must be kept secret for their protection. The ghost orchid is thought to pollinated by the giant sphinx month, the only flying insect with mouth parts long enough to reach into the ghost orchids extended nectar spur. This summer I will be working with researchers to place precision camera traps near orchid blooms with hopes of capturing evidence of the pollination which is thought to happen in the middle of the night. Please follow @CarltonWard to join me in the swamps on this quest. And check out the work of fellow @NatGeo Explorer @Peter_Houlihan who has done his PhD on Ghost Orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand. #GhostOrchid #Orchid #Swamp #Everglades #PathofthePanther #FloridaWild #KeepFLWild. A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on Jun 24, 2018 at 3:00am PDT

As much as I’d love to add this orchid to my collection, I’m afraid I’ll have to admire it from afar. The plant is actually leafless, consisting of bare green roots that cling in random patterns to the bark of specific trees.

This orchid is aptly named, given its ghastly spectral appearance. Because it clings to tree bark. The white flower — when it does bloom (which may be once a decade) — appears to hover in the forest. The lack of leaves makes it an apparition when it does bloom. But it’s also known as palm polly and white frog orchid due, no doubt, to its unique shape and habit of growing on trees.

Its beauty and rare existence make ghost orchids attractive to pirates seeking the unusual flowers. Yes, there are people who make it their life work to plunder the natural world for financial gain. And this work results in the growing decline of ghost orchids in their natural habitat.

View this post on Instagram The American Orchid Society will be emphasizing our Conservation Endowment, a permanent fund, the interest on which allows us to make grants for the specific protection of endangered orchid species and habitat. We partner with various other conservation groups and universities to actively encourage orchid conservation, one of our organization's major goals as we approach our Centennial anniversary in April 2021.  Please consider a gift to the AOS' Conservation Endowment as we enter this season of Giving. Click the link in our Profile to donate. PIctures:  ghost orchid by Greg Allikas, Sacoila lanceolata by Jennifer Reinoso, Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid by Canadian website. A post shared by American Orchid Society (@americanorchidsociety) on Nov 27, 2019 at 5:53am PST

Can you grow these at home? Perhaps. But only nurseries in Florida supply this orchid. It’s very difficult and expensive for nurseries elsewhere as the financial risk in trying to maintain such a rare beauty is unmanageable — considering the plant’s very particular growing requirements.

Related Post: How to Care for Orchids

Those pirates who attempt to steal these plants from their natural environment are met with disappointing results. The ghost orchid usually dies in captivity. There are some botanists researching the possibility of seed germination, but this study is still in the early stages.

The ghost orchid lives up to its name not only in appearance, but also in the fact that its limited, scattered populations have put it on the endangered species list. It survives in swampy forests and small wooded islands. Its greatest threat to survival is human: poaching, climate change, destroyed habitat, and the decline of natural pollinators.

Interesting Facts About Ghost Orchids

Check out some interesting notes about this mystical floral phantom.

Their Blooming Time Is Short

When (and if) the orchid blooms, it happens once a year for a few weeks between June and August.

In any given year, just 10 percent of the ghost orchids bloom. Of that 10 percent, 10 percent will be pollinated.

Ghost Orchids Have No Leaves

The plant has scales instead of leaves and the entire plant appears to lack foliage, giving it the distinction of a leafless orchid.

The stem is also reduced, so without stems or leaves, and with only 10 percent of the ghost orchids blooming, it’s difficult to find these plants in their natural habitat.

The Ghost Orchid Is Mostly Roots

Since there are no leaves, and the stem is minimal, the ghost orchid consists mostly of roots that grow on and around a tree’s bark — instead of the typical orchid which would grow in the ground soil. As such, the ghost orchid is an epiphyte, latching onto its host tree like a parasite.

View this post on Instagram After seven years, the ghost orchid pollination manifesto is now published in @nature.research’s Scientific Reports, with research supported by @insidenatgeo (Link in Bio). Photo(s) by @macstonephoto. . Houlihan, Stone, Clem, Owen, & Emmel (2019). "Pollination ecology of the ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii): A first description with new hypotheses for Darwin’s orchids." Scientific Reports, 9(1-10). . I dedicate this work to Tom Emmel. An icon in the world of conservation, scientific expeditions, Lepidoptera, & endangered species of Florida, Tom was larger than life. The Founding Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity @floridamuseum, he was more than my mentor, he was my fiercest advocate, my hero, and my friend. I would not be where or who I am today without him. Tom passed away last May on an expedition in Brazil, doing what he loved most. Nobody would have appreciated this discovery more, not even ol' Chuck Darwin. All of this beats at the core of his heart. Thank you, Tom. Wish you could’ve seen this one. I am forever grateful. . There is so much to say about this long journey, most importantly the conservation implications of our scientific research for an endangered species and the greater Everglades ecosystem. After seven years of secrecy, I’ll begin sharing this work through a series of posts, including related media about a group effort with @macstonephoto & @carltonward in @natgeo, @biographic_magazine, and @audubonsociety. Thank you to Fakahatchee @fl.stateparks and @corkscrewswamp for all of the support; to @macstonephoto, I appreciate you immensely – thank you for everything, on this research, exploration, photography, and far beyond. Much love. . Natural history research is always important. My hope is that these stories amplify the voice of the Everglades. The water that runs through these swamps gives us life, and we must do better in protecting them. The future of these wild places, the wildlife within, and humanity, all depend on us. . #ghostorchid #florida #everglades #orchid #conservation #natgeo A post shared by Peter Houlihan (@peter_houlihan) on Sep 6, 2019 at 2:58am PDT

Since there are no leaves to collect the sunlight for photosynthesis, the roots, which contain the necessary chlorophyll, take on this task. Not only do the roots anchor the plant on the tree, they also take in the water and nutrients the leaves would normally collect. These roots have small white marks (pneumatodes) to perform the gas exchange required for the plant’s respiration and photosynthesis.

Without the greenish blend offered by foliage, the plants root system is camouflaged against the tree bark when the plant isn’t blooming. When the flower does appear, it grows on a thin, spindly spike that projects away from the roots, giving the illusion it’s floating freely in the forest.

They Smell Like Apples

There is an interesting aroma to this plant when it’s in bloom. It actually kind of smells like apples, most noticeably in the early morning.

Giant Sphinx Moths Are Their Friend

The ghost orchid relies on the giant sphinx moth for pollination. The plant’s pollen is hidden deep within the flowers and needs a long proboscis for the insect to dig deep inside.

They Have 18 Preferred Host Trees

In Florida, the ghost orchid prefers the pop ash, pond apple, and bald cypress trees. In Cuba, it has at least 18 preferred host trees. Predators like the emerald ash borer are killing some of the host trees, thus depleting this plant’s natural habitat.

Poachers Are Making Them Extinct

With its rare and remote, inhospitable habitat, one would think an estimated 2,000 plants in South Florida alone would be enough to protect the orchid from plunderers. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case as this rarity makes a prime target for poachers eager to sell the plant on the black market. If they can find it, that is. The plants’ locations are kept secret and without prior knowledge of their habitat, very difficult to find. Especially when it’s not in flower.

There’s Fungus Among Us

Although almost impossible to cultivate, there is one fungus that seems to help. Michael Kane and other researchers studied the barks of trees where these plants prosper. It was discovered that the moist bark harbors the fungus genus, Ceratobasidium , which excels at a higher germination rate.

The Ghost Orchid Is a Movie Star

The ghost orchid can claim movie star greatness as its plundering plight made headlines in 1993 when poachers tried to steal over a hundred plants. The story made headlines and was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage (Adaption, 2002) based on Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief .

View this post on Instagram Amongst the rarest flowers of the world, the ghost orchid was the subject of the book the Orchid Thief as well as the movie Adaptation, which starred Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep. Only found in Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas, the endangered ghost orchid has been greatly affected over the years by poaching and habitat loss. It has an intricate relationship with its sole pollinator, the giant sphinx moth; where the moth’s extremely long tongue is the only one capable of reaching the sweet reward down the orchid’s nectar spur (pictured on the lower flower). Florida has a great variety of natural treasures, venture out and discover what it has to offer. 🙌🏼 #GhostOrchid A post shared by Mario Cisneros (@zeroeye) on Jun 10, 2018 at 6:49am PDT

With Florida’s wetlands threatened by development, drying up, and preyed upon by poachers, the ghost orchid may remain something of an apparitional enigma. Since I probably will not have the opportunity to grow one in my own, indoor orchid garden, or visit the protected areas where this plant grows at a time when the flowers appear, I doubt I’ll ever get to see these eerie, ghost-like anomalies in real life.

But I am continually amazed at flora that reflect the endless possibilities of nature’s creativity. Ghost orchids indeed. Too bad they only bloom in July and August in certain, limited environments. If only …

To learn more about the ghost orchid and to see some pretty remarkable shots of this elusive flower, check out this short film from National Geographic.

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About Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Emily-Jane Hills Orford is an award-winning author of several books, including Gerlinda (CFA 2016) which received an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, To Be a Duke (CFA 2014) which was named Finalist and Silver Medalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and received an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. She writes about the extra-ordinary in life and her books, short stories, and articles are receiving considerable attention. For more information on the author, check out her website at: https://emilyjanebooks.ca

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Epiogium aphyllum - Ghost Orchid

Ghost Orchid flowers hang downwards but the lip points uppermost. Many European wild orchids have the lip downwards-pointing (resupinate) because the ovary is twisted through 180 degrees

Introduction.

As I trudged uphill, through the thick beech leaf carpet, carrying rucksack and tripod I felt, instinctively, that this year - 2016 - would be far too dry for those tiny treasures, the ghost orchids. Over the years this elusive and unpredictable species has become a particular passion for me within the greater encompass of my  Orchidophilia - a malady from which I have ‘suffered’ for half a century or so as a youngsters who first found bee orchids and could not believe how any flower could look like that.

The colouring of ghost orchids with various pale reddish browns, yellow and creamish tones creates a camouflage effect with the dappled lighting within their beechwood habitat. The knack is to spot the first when, as with orchids of all kinds, others then seem to spring up…as you become accustomed to the light and ‘get your ‘eye in’.  This time, I had given up, resigned to trying another day and I took a slight diversion some 40m sideways from my path to a gully. With that capriciousness that characterises this and other orchid species, there was the first just a few centimetres high….another 9 spikes followed, flowering some two weeks earlier than I have ever found them previously in that locale.

The serious work then began with macro lenses of all sorts from wide to telephoto with  natural light and flash whilst the large, persistent mosquitos found they had a new food source: me. One naturally has to suffer at times for one’s art but their vicious forays and persistence meant that a much higher proportion of images than usual had to be discarded at the later editing stage.

Ghost Orchid - Epipogium aphyllum

The most recent images I have of ghost orchids (July 2016) two weeks earlier than usual but deep in the beechwood gloom

As well as some images from this visit I have decided to dust off and revisit an article I wrote about four years ago that looks at my history with this orchid and gives an insight into what a love of a subject and a species can bring….

Way back in the mid 1960’s I was able to choose a book as a school biology prize and, having no idea of what it would eventually mean in my life, I chose V.S. Summerhayes’ classic Wild Orchids of Britain one of many classics in the Collins New Naturalist’s  series. Although there here was much between its covers to fascinate an embryonic orchidomane it was hard not to be specially intrigued by Epipogium aphyllum, the ghost orchid, with its rarity and the sheer unpredictability of flowering.

Never in its evolutionary history can one imagine that the Ghost Orchid has been anything other than extremely uncommon at best: there were never woodland glades filled with this orchid growing like bluebells. Flowering is unpredictable in all its known localities throughout Europe into Asia and, though the pollination mechanism is effective, little seed is reputedly set.

There was some publicity (and not a small amount of hyperbole) that greeted, some years ago, the re-discovery by Mark Jannink of this species in the UK for the first time since 1986. It made me think back over some personal experiences and the results of informal and continuing researches in Europe since my own search began in 1976 when I was living in Wendover, Bucks . From what I know now, that memorably hot summer did not augur well for discovering the ghost orchid since it is generally accepted that sufficient rain in spring and early summer is essential since moisture stored in the rhizome stimulates the creation of the buds on the rhizome that will result in aerial stems. This can even be governed by conditions the year previously when buds are formed and stay dormant beneath ground. However, if conditions are too dry, the rhizome continues to grow but those buds (and even flowering stems) are aborted below ground .

The following year things looked better and I made weekly pilgrimages to a certain well known beechwood near the town of Marlow. I hasten to add that, at this stage, my trustworthiness had been tested and established through conservation work I had done and the powers that ran BBONT (The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Naturalists trust) at that time. I was finally entrusted with chapter and verse as to previous known beechwood locations.

Epipogium aphyllum - Ghost Orchid

A telephone call in August 1978 alerted me to the discovery of a flowering stem that very day and the next, with precise directions, I was in the wood head down and searching in the gloom. Even then it was too late; there were no flowering stems but there were suspicious signs of the removal of a plant - the thieves had not even bothered to cover their traces and had left the hole. To say I was angry would be an understatement and I made careful enquiries and a ‘professional’ name kept being mentioned but there was no concrete proof. The general feeling was that, if proof of the theft were to be forthcoming, there could well be another large hole in the beechwood - this time filled with human material!

In September 1978 I left for a new life in Cyprus and, typically, in 1979 received a postcard to say that another spike had appeared and even that been removed. For normal folk it is hard to countenance the selfish obsessiveness of the very few. This exists with collectors of rare plants, birds’ eggs,  butterflies…there is no thought for the welfare and survival of the species: they are probably mentally ill. My involvement in conservation has lasted for four decades and I have had direct experience of the depredations of some of these people and the steps to which they will go… even to the point of impersonation. Nowadays I treat requests (but not demands) for sites politely: in Italy many of the locations for rarities have been trusted to me and I am at the end of that chain and, I am sorry, but I will not break the trust.

The timeline in my tale shifts to 1985, though it is fair to say that in the interim I had found a fair few orchids and written a book…Wild Orchids of Britain & Europe with Anthony Huxley  (1983). Now back in Britain, after a three year sojourn in Cyprus, I received a telephone call from Germany where a close friend told me that, in its classic site at Hüfingen in the Black Forest, there was a remarkable flowering. Such things are impossible to resist and that afternoon I took the first of several trains from S.Wales, a ferry to Ostend and an overnight train to Stuttgart…where, at 6am, I was greeted with a mug of hot coffee by German friends Ralf and Karin Berndt-Hansen. By 9am I was shaking with excitement - surrounded (well almost) by flowering stems of the ghost orchid.

Ghost Orchid - Epipogium aphyllum

The ghost orchid flower - showing all parts clearly: both lip and spur point upwards and you can see the short stem holding the ovary to the main flowering stem: it is non-resupinatet (ie not twisted through 180 degrees)

My very strong feelings about being European and the importance of widening interests  (to get the British flora and fauna in proportion) also informs my political and social views on the EU. I detest narrow-minded nationalism, abhor that ‘little Islander’ mentality and love the diversity of different  people, philosophies, outlooks and languages.

I know that some people feel a certain degree of ‘nationalism’ when it comes to orchids and feel they must see these things in Britain. In fact, back in the days when I did talks the length and breadth of the UK I was met one evening by a gentleman who asked me to let him know when I began to talk about orchids beyond Europe’s shores because he was only interested in UK orchids… I tried to explain that it was only by viewing our impoverished UK flora, that one could understand the evolution and effects of human pressures on the orchid population… not to say other species of plants and animals.  He was unmoved…and the loser for it, I believe.

I have long taken the attitude that I do not want to add my weight to the numbers going to see orchids where they are endangered, thus helping to ensure their demise. In Germany in an ancient pinewood, a wonderful colony of these exquisite ghost orchids survived (and still does) Locals know the site well and the fact that, across the road in another part of the wood, grow large numbers of lady's slipper flowering a couple of months earlier. There is great local pride taken in their protection.

Some observations…

Epipogium aphyllum - ghost Orchid

A pair of ghost orchid flowers against a white background

In Germany I had a first opportunity to study the orchids at close quarters and at leisure, noting the distinctive scent I had read about in old books. It has been alternately described as sweet or foetid and resembling fermenting pineapples. This shows the unreliability of olfactory descriptions – to me it was distinctly sweet: I could not swear to either honey or pineapple tones, I don’t have that kind of nose.  It may be worth pointing out that, although the wood at Hüfingen is of ancient pine it is not gloomy everywhere within like the UK beechwood sites –all the continental plants I have found either growing in beechwood/ mixed broadleaf or under pine were often growing in lighter conditions, even at woodland edges where sparse grass was able to grow.

In every case the host woods have been long-established and the orchid plants found have usually been where there is water close by in winter – a wet area in a wood, a ditch and so on. The substrate has always been calcareous but a plant’s immediate environment will be slightly acidic from the decaying leaf material.

As a saprophyte, any need for light would be questionable, especially since there are records of flowers being produced underground. This is accidental – probably an aborted spike since the pollinators do not burrow, unlike two fascinating Australian species in the genus Rhizanthella that always flower underground.

There is always a conundrum with those few wild orchid species in Europe that are considered saprophytic in that all orchids depend at some stage in their life on the relationship with a mycorrhiza fungus, often more a ding-dong battle for survival in the early stages than symbiosis. Many orchids growing in woodlands will revert to fungal dependence when light levels drop and push up no more than a profile as a kind of ‘periscope’. Indeed when the fungal mycelia penetrate the germinating orchid seed, (the seed itself is more or less a nucleus in a protective sheath) the chemicals secreted start to digest the ends of the mycelium within it turning them into ball like knots called ‘plotons’ that the plant then digests…a mix of parasitism and saprophytic activity.

Ghost Orchid

Spikes of the ghost orchid are often very small (less than 10cm in height) and with few flowers 2-3 for example

Although I have not been back to the Hüfingen site, I have happened by chance upon ghost orchid plants several times since -always in mountain regions of Europe. You get a ‘feel’ for the kind of wood – the pinewoods have plenty of moss, the beech with an abundance of leaf litter with woodland species such as the wintergreens (Pyrolas) and other orchid taxa such as various Epipactis and, by flowering time the seed-bearing stems of bird’s nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis ) and yellow bird’s nest ( Monotropa hypopitys ) I can recall several chance finds in long established pine and mixed woods in the Dolomites.

To the Present Day

Whilst living in Italy I have (for seven years in succession) visited several known sites often with Italian friends who, themselves, have been searching for decades. I cannot express too strongly my gratitude for the generosity and companionship of Pier-luigi Pacetti and Pino Rattini…not to forget the improvements to my spoken Italian.

It does not matter where this orchid grows, it capriciousness seems universal…there are no guarantees of success and  I never start off a day's hike with anything more than mild hope. With climatic conditions everywhere in Europe now highly unpredictable the chances of a wet spring are slim, but even when there is rain at what you might tentatively think was the right time flowering is, to say the least, uncertain.

There is one superb location in the Apennines some 2.5 hours journey from where we live. that demands hauling whatever photographic equipment you have for a good 90 minutes uphill in the heat. But when you get to a beechwood where a stream runs across the path in winter fatigue evaporates, when in the dappled light you glimpse the prize, trust me, I know. Spikes of ghost orchid have been seen on one occasion in four visits - what was particularly worrying was the apparent level of activity from wild boar which in Italy seem to have a love of orchid roots and tubers irrespective of rarity and are a major threat to their survival.

Another site on Mt Amiata, the highest mountain in Tuscany, has yielded a single flowering spike on one occasion. A far better and more reliable site in Abruzzo (the one I returned to yesterday on 13th July 2016) has provide at least a handful and more of spikes on each of the five occasions I have visited it.

In continental Europe sites can be threatened by logging and, ultimately, by climate change. It is almost impossible to tell the extent of this and thus of the exact distribution of the species given the known irregularity of flowering. There are numerous recorded instances of Epipogium aphyllum appearing after long absences (as in the UK) most likely from underground parts that have persisted unnoticed.

E. aphyllum is not an easy orchid to find for it blends well with leaf litter on the woodland floor where there is dappled light - the name ghost orchid is apt.The difficulty in ever knowing with any degree of accuracy the distribution of a species like this is that numerous visits have to be made over a potentially lengthy flowering period in successive years…serendipity is a great friend of orchid lovers.

Some Plant facts

The ghost orchid is an extremely attractive plant, irrespective of its almost legendary status as a rarity. The flowers are large for the overall size of the orchid (often less than 10cm tall…) slightly pendent and delicately hued. The lip has a crinkled margin with a large, triangular central lobe, it is whitish to delicate rose pink with purple papillae on its inner surface. white and delicately marked with rose pink whilst sepals are yellowish. and then there is that scent, delicate but sweet. There are purple streaks on the outer surface and on the rather fat spur.

Pollination

Small humble bees are said to be the most successful pollinators as their size is just right to effect pollination .The bee lands on the exposed part of the lip and makes its way towards the spur where it can reach the nectar. As it backs out it ruptures the delicate rostellum, the anther cap is pulled away and the pollinia are exposed – these stick to the head parts of the bee. Very few seed capsules are produced in the UK (R.A Graham noted one in a group of 22 flowering stems he chanced upon). I have seen a few capsules where the plants grew in lighter cover in larger colonies in Italy and Germany where, presumably, there was an increased chance of a productive insect encounter.

Distribution

E. aphyllum is a Eurasian species extending from Europe through Russia east to Japan and one of two known species in the genus Epipogium – the other, E. roseum has a wide distribution throughout the tropical regions of the world. The ghost orchid was first discovered in the UK in 1854 by Mrs W. Anderton near Tedstone Delamere and in 1876 nr Ludlow. The Oxfordshire plants were first noted in 1923…

The name derives from Epi (on) and pogon (a beard or lip). In the literature I have to hand the following diverse list of alternatives appears…there may be others. No-one seemed quite sure of where to put it in the taxonomic scheme of things. The first record I can find is from Siberia (1747)

1.  Satyrium epipogium L. (1753) 2.  Orchis aphylla F.W. Schmidt (1791) 3.  Epipactis epipogium (L.) All. (1789) 4.  Limodorum epipogium (L.) Sw. (1799) 5.  Epipogium aphyllum Sw (1814) 6.  Epipogium gmelinii Rich. (1817) 7.  Serapias epigogium (L.) Steud. (1821) 8.  Epipogium epipogium (L.) H. Karst. (1881) 9.  Epipogium generalis E.H.L. Krause (1905)

Saprophytic Orchids

Saprophytic orchids. Top left - Violet Limodore Limodorum abortivum , top right - Bird's-nest Orchid Neottia nidus avis , bottom left Coral Root Orchid Corallorhiza trifida , bottom right - Ghost Orchid Epipogium apyllum

©  paul harcourt davies august 2016, for information on tours and courses....

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Ghost orchid

The unexpected call came in mid-February. Could the Chicago Botanic Garden present a blooming ghost orchid on a global stage in London?

An international team of orchid experts would work with us to get the rare plant to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show in late May. At Chelsea, one of the most prestigious flower shows in the world, the endangered ghost orchid would star in a first-of-its-kind conservation exhibition. 

Never mind that the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ) usually blooms in summer—not May. Never mind that we didn’t have enough time to get the special permits to transport the plant into the United Kingdom. Never mind that we weren’t sure how the heat- and humidity-loving ghost orchid would hold up in travel.

The Garden is one of the few institutions in the world to have ghost orchids; the plant is notoriously difficult to grow outside of its natural habitat in Florida and Cuba. In the Mildred Plant Orchidarium , we've raised ghost orchids from tiny seedlings in flasks, with roots an inch or so long. We’ve even had a ghost orchid bloom before, under the care of Johanna Hutchins, the Garden’s Julie Plant Grainger orchid floriculturist.

When we got the phone call about Chelsea, we had a bit of hope—one of our ghost orchids had a small spike, a sign of a potential bloom.

Hutchins jumped into Zoom meetings and email conversations with Chelsea’s Orchid Conservation Team, along with Adam Dooling, our director of collections. The international team helped us work through the complicated permit process and other issues. These top orchid specialists from eight institutions put their collective might and expertise behind us. Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congressman Brad Schneider also supported our efforts.

One week before her departure date, Hutchins had the required permits. She boarded a red-eye flight to London with a single budding ghost orchid in hand.

In a protective case, the ghost orchid made it through the flight, customs, and a quarantine at Kew Gardens. Meanwhile, at Chelsea, Hutchins and the international team got to work on the exhibition.

All collaborators brought a wealth of knowledge and added their own touches to tell people the story of the night-blooming ghost orchid. Stetson University researchers, for instance, re-created the plant’s sweet, fruity scent—which attracts pollinating moths—and brought along vials of the fragrance.

Together, team members built a scene reminiscent of tropical Florida. They covered a giant crabapple tree with air plants, Spanish moss, and bromeliads, as a backdrop for our ghost orchid. The display also included orchids donated by the Chicago Botanic Garden and other institutions, as well as native orchids from Britain and the Republic of Cameroon.

As people took in the eye-catching display, Hutchins and other experts talked about conservation efforts for Dendrophylax lindenii.

The ghost orchid was a jumping-off point for a broader discussion of all orchids threatened with extinction worldwide, along with their habitats.

In the chilly pavilion, temperatures dropped to the upper-40 degrees Fahrenheit. On some nights, Hutchins tucked heat packs into the crook of the crabapple tree to try to keep the ghost orchid warm and its chances for a bloom alive.

The budding ghost orchid drew huge crowds and media attention. Some visitors kept returning to see if the ghost orchid had bloomed, especially after they spotted tantalizing hints—a swollen bud and elongated nectar spur.

Johanna Hutchins, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s orchid floriculturist

Johanna Hutchins, the Chicago Botanic Garden’s orchid floriculturist, tucks heat pads near the ghost orchid to keep it warm.

Budding ghost orchid

Our budding ghost orchid drew crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Johanna Hutchins answers questions at the Chelsea Flower Show

Hutchins answers questions at the Chelsea Flower Show about the featured ghost orchid.

Ghost orchid in bloom in UK

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s ghost orchid bloomed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

As it turned out, the plant was just getting ready for its second act.

When the Flower Show ended, we donated our ghost orchid to Kew Gardens. Hutchins dropped by for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Princess of Wales Conservatory and look at the ghost orchid, mounted behind two layers of glass in a terrarium.

After she left, her collaborators at Kew texted her daily pictures so she could track the bud’s progress. Finally, a few days later, Hutchins got the news that she had been hoping for—the ghost orchid was in bloom.

The BBC, The Times of London, and other media covered the big news. Stories noted that Dendrophylax lindenii had bloomed for the first time in the United Kingdom—and that the ghost orchid had come from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

In the end, everything worked out for the best. The ghost orchid captivated an audience at Chelsea and another one at Kew. And the Orchid Conservation Team is already discussing other potential collaborations.

“I am thrilled, honestly, that our ghost orchid is part of the collection at Kew and was so effective at spreading a conservation message,” Hutchins said.

Together, we showed what was possible—for a glorious, shining moment, a single ghost orchid had captured the public’s imagination and symbolized the importance of protecting plants in our fragile world.

Ghost orchid team

Hutchins and Lynnaun Johnson, Ph.D., who studied ghost orchids while pursuing his doctoral degree at the Garden, and other Garden staff at Chelsea: Jessica Wong, Veronica Harry-Jackson, and Hilary Noble.

All photos courtesy of Johanna Hutchins

Author: Renee T. Title: Senior Writer and Editor, Communications Published: Jul 03, 2023 Category: Plant Science & Conservation

Plants & Gardening

Science & conservation.

The Ghost Orchid: one of Britain's rarest plants

The Herefordshire Ghost Orchid, 2009

The Herefordshire Ghost Orchid, 2009

Distribution map of Ghost Orchids in Britain (all records: data courtesy of Botanical Society of the British Isles 2013).

Eleanor Vachell, c. 1930.

Eleanor Vachell, c. 1930.

A 1953 Ghost Orchid collected by Rex Graham

A 1953 Ghost Orchid collected by Rex Graham

The 1982 Herefordshire Ghost Orchid preserved in formalin

The 1982 Herefordshire Ghost Orchid preserved in formalin

The Welsh National Herbarium at Amguedfa Cymru has a small - but very precious - collection of Ghost Orchids ( Epipogium aphyllum Sw.); is this something to be proud of, or should they have been left in the wild? The answer lies in the donations to the Museum, and slugs...

Ghost Orchids are among the rarest plants in Britain. They have been found in about 11 sites in the Chilterns and West Midlands in England, but such is their rarity and the secrecy surrounding them that it is difficult to be sure exactly how many sites there are.

Regarded as extinct

Ghost Orchids were first discovered in Britain in 1854 but were only seen 11 times before the 1950s. They were seen regularly in a few Chilterns sites between 1953 and 1987 but then disappeared and were regarded as extinct until one plant was discovered in 2009. In most sites they have only been seen once, and rarely for more than ten years in any one site.

Ghost orchids - a fleeting occurrence in dark, shaded woods

Ghost Orchids get their name from their creamy-white to pinkish-brown colour and their fleeting occurrences in dark, shaded woods. The colour results from the absence of chlorophyll, as they are parasites of fungi associated with tree roots, and they do not need to photosynthesise their own food. They spend most of their lives as rhizomes (underground shoots) in the soil or leaf litter of woodlands, and flowering shoots only occasionally appear above ground. Even then, their small size (usually less than 15cm, rarely up to 23cm) and unpredictable appearance between June and October means that Ghost Orchids are rarely seen.

Until recently the only British specimen held by Amgueddfa Cymru was a scrap of rhizome collected for Eleanor Vachell in 1926 - her herbarium is one of the most comprehensive ever put together by a British botanist - who donated her collection to the Museum when she died in 1949. The story of how the fragment of Ghost Orchid was discovered is given in her botanical diary:

" 28 May 1926 . The telephone bell summoned Mr [Francis] Druce to receive a message from Mr Wilmott of the British Museum. Epipogium aphyllum had been found in Oxfordshire by a young girl and had been shown to Dr [George Claridge] Druce and Mrs Wedgwood. Now Mr Wilmott had found out the name of the wood and was ready to give all information!!! Excitement knew no bounds. Mr Druce rang up Elsie Knowling inviting her to join the search and a taxi was hurriedly summoned to take E.V. [=Eleanor Vachell] and Mr Druce to the British Museum to collect the particulars from Mr Wilmott. The little party walked to the wood where the single specimen had been found and searched diligently that part of the wood marked in the map lent by Mr Wilmott but without success, though they spread out widely in both directions... Completely baffled, the trio, at E.V.'s suggestion, returned to the town to search for the finder. After many enquiries had been made they were directed to a nice house, the home of Mrs I. ?, who was fortunately in when they called. E.V. acted spokesman. Mrs I. was most kind and after giving them a small sketch of the flower told them the name of the street where the girl who had found it lived. Off they started once more. The girl too was at home and there in a vase was another flower of Epipogium ! In vain did Mr Druce plead with her to part with it but she was adamant! Before long however she had promised to show the place to which she had lead Dr Druce and Mrs Wedgwood and from which the two specimens had been gathered. Off again. This time straight to the right place, but there was nothing to be seen of Epipogium ! 2 June 1926 . A day to spare! Why not have one more hunt for Epipogium ? Arriving at the wood, E.V. crept stealthily to the exact spot from which the specimen had been taken and kneeling down carefully, with their fingers they removed a little soil, exposing the stem of the orchid, to which were attached tiny tuberous rootlets! Undoubtedly the stem of Dr Druce's specimen! Making careful measurements for Mr Druce, they replaced the earth, covered the tiny hole with twigs and leaf-mould and fled home triumphant, possessed of a secret that they were forbidden to share with anyone except Mr Druce and Mr Wilmott. A few days later E.V. received from Mr Druce an excited letter of thanks and a box of earth containing a tiny rootlet that he had found in the exact spot they had indicated." [Source: Forty, M. & Rich, T. C. G., eds. (2006). The botanist. The botanical diary of Eleanor Vachell (1879-1948). National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.]

Eleanor shared the rootlet with her great friend Elsie Knowling, who also had a herbarium. Coincidentally, the two fragments have been reunited at the Museum after being apart for 84 years.

In 1953, Elsie's son Rex Graham stumbled across 22 Ghost Orchids in a Buckinghamshire wood, the largest colony of ever seen in Britain (Graham 1953). This was the first time that Ghost Orchids had been seen for 20 years and it made the national press. At the time Rex collected only three specimens, but over the next few years he collected more when they were found eaten off by slugs. Eventually Rex had four specimens for his own herbarium, to add to the scrap in his mother's herbarium. The Ghost Orchids were amongst the treasures in Graham & Harley herbarium, which was donated to Amgueddfa Cymru in 2010.

The third collection is the Museum's only specimen preserved in spirit (rather than being pressed and dried) so that the three dimensional structure of the flower can be seen. Dr Valerie Richards (formerly Coombs) was looking for wild orchids in Herefordshire in 1982 when she discovered a single ghost orchid in a new site. When she took a local botanist to the site a few days later, a slug had eaten through the stem. She picked it up and took it home and preserved it in formalin like the zoological specimens she had been used to working with during her university days. The specimen was kindly donated to the Museum in 2013.

The fourth and final collection resulted from the hard work and intuition of Mark Jannink combined with another hungry slug. Mark wondered if Ghost Orchids flowered more frequently after cold winters. He researched all previous Ghost Orchid discoveries - their preferred habitat, time of flowering and weather patterns - then staked out ten possible sites in the West Midlands, visiting them every two weeks throughout the summer of 2009, following the first cold winter for many years. Finally in September, he discovered one small specimen - causing great excitement amongst botanists, as the Ghost Orchid had been declared officially extinct in 2005! Mark returned several times over the next few days as the plant gradually faded and 'browned', until the stem was once again eaten through by slugs. The remains were collected and pressed, and donated to our herbarium shortly after.

So five of the seven British Ghost Orchids in Amgueddfa Cymru have been collected as a consequence of slugs, which are more of a threat than botanists. The Ghost Orchids are fully protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but nobody seems to have told that to the slugs!

We also have eight specimens from Europe, where Ghost Orchids are more widespread, though still rare. One of our best specimens was collected by W. A. Sledge in Switzerland.

You are welcome to visit the Welsh National Herbarium to see the Ghost Orchids, but don't expected us to reveal where they were found! And please leave your slugs at home.

Adapted for the website from the following article:

the ghost orchid flower

The scrap of Ghost Orchid rootlet in Eleanor Vachell's herbarium. Also attached to the specimen are Dr George Claridge Druce's (1924) account of it from Gardeners Chronicle series 3 volume 76, page 114 and two small sketches by Miss Baumgartner.

Swiss Ghost Orchids collected by W. A. Sledge in 1955.

Swiss Ghost Orchids collected by W. A. Sledge in 1955.

The 2009 Ghost Orchid from Herefordshire.

The 2009 Ghost Orchid from Herefordshire.

  • Graham, R. A. (1953). Epipogium aphyllum Sw. in Buckinghamshire. Watsonia 3: 33 and tab. (http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/Wats3p33.pdf ).
  • Harley, R. M. (1962). Obituary: Rex Alan Henry Graham. Proceedings of the Botanical Society of the British Isles 4: 505-507.

For further information on Ghost Orchids see:

  • Farrell, L. (1999) Epipogium aphyllum Sw. page 136 in Wigginton, M. J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1. Vascular plants . 3rd edition. JNCC, Peterborough.
  • Foley, M. J. Y. & Clark, S. (2005) Orchids of the British Isles. The Griffin Press, Maidenhead.
  • Jannink, M. & Rich, T. C. G. (2010). Ghost orchid rediscovered in Britain after 23 years. Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society 7: 14-15.
  • Taylor, L. & Roberts, D. L. (2011). Biological Flora of the British Isles: Epipogium aphyllum Sw. Journal of Ecology 99 : 878–890. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2011.01839.x/abstract:

Comments - (1)

Most interesting. Please keep up the good work. Kind regards.

The Herefordshire Ghost Orchid, 2009

31 October 2022

Digital séance: Bringing the 'ghost orchids' to life

Kew's digital revolution team have been taking some of the most mysterious and mesmerising members of our orchid collection online..

Marco Pellegrini

By Dr Marco Pellegrini and James Whittaker

Field with purple orchids in

The ever-growing Kew Science Collections Digitisation Project  team have been digitising Kew's orchid collection since June 2022, having so far imaged and barcoded over 32,000 orchid specimens.

This October, also known as ‘Spooky Season’ by Halloween enthusiasts, we bring a weird and mysterious group of orchids — known by some as the ‘ghost orchids’ — into the limelight.

The Orchid Herbarium

Unlike most plant groups, the orchid specimens housed at Kew have their own private home in the Herbarium Building , appropriately known as the Orchid Herbarium.

It is a very special and unique collection, which also includes the Lindley Collection (specimens collected by eminent English botanist John Lindley) and the Orchid Illustration Collection.

Most of this collection’s uniqueness lies in the bizarrely marvellous plants and illustrations housed inside it.

Looking across the first floor of the Herbarium with red metal spiral staircases and rows of shelves

From stars to ghouls

Our journey started with the orchids in the subfamily Apostasioideae, a small group of plants native from southeast Asia to Australia. These plants don’t look very orchid-like, instead they have long and narrow leaves and tiny flowers reminiscent of star-grasses.

The next group tackled by our Digitisation Officers were the slipper orchids, or the Cypripedioideae subfamily. These well-known plants are extremely popular in horticulture because of their large, long-lasting and bright-coloured flowers. You’ve certainly seen these beauties at plant shops, exhibitions and botanic gardens, but also as inspiring muses for many painters and photographers.

The orchids in the Orchidoideae subfamily are not particularly known for their showy flowers. In fact, some people call them ‘ghost orchids’ as many produce seasonal flowers and leaves, with flower shoots growing directly from the ground.

Paphiopedilum papilio, slipper orchid

Ghouls just want to have fun

The 'ghost orchids' have some of the weirdest-looking flowers, since many of them evolved to mimic animals.

Groups such as the bee orchids (Ophrys) and the duck orchids ( Caleana) can produce flowers that mimic bees, flies and wasps. These deceptive orchids do not just replicate the appearance of insects, but also their pheromones — chemicals used to identify potential mates.

With their deceptive looks and scent, these orchids trick male insects into believing they have secured a mate. They place their pollinia (a mass of pollen) on the naïve bug, so when it visits another flower of the same species, it unwittingly pollinates it.

Other species in this group, like  Orchis anthropophora and Orchis simia, have flowers that resemble humans and monkeys. Species of the genus Habenaria tend to have green to yellow flowers that look like a myriad of supernatural creatures, such as fairies, elves and little trolls.

A green and dark red flower with a long appendage growing from it

A Botanist and Digitisation Officer’s worst nightmare

Despite being unquestionably amazing, orchids tend to haunt people that digitise biological collections — their flowers’ form, structure, colouration and complexity defy the human mind.

Not surprisingly, these delicate and complex flowers rarely survive or retain their structure after being pressed and dried to become herbarium specimens. This could lead some to consider studying and dissecting these pressed flowers the stuff of nightmares.

Many times, when digitising these specimens, a Digitisation Officer has to take additional images since many botanists dissect and dry flowers, and even attach illustrations of the flowers, in hopes of making their lives easier. But opening envelopes, lifting labels and properly placing flower fragments can make a Digitisation Officer’s job much more difficult and time consuming.

Spirit photography

Digitisation is a skeleton key for all collections, museums and archives, with it creating a permanent digital record of its specimens. Specimens of any kind have a lifespan and are susceptible to degradation, loss and destruction, even the most pristinely curated collections.

The Berlin Herbarium is proof of that. Many of its type specimens (collections used by scientists to describe new species) were destroyed during the bombings of Berlin in World War 2.

Luckily, before the war, the Field Museum had started an ambitious project aiming to photograph type specimens from around the world. The images taken during their visit to the Berlin Herbarium are literally ‘images from beyond the grave’, representing the only known record of these specimens.

Digitising a collection also improves access, enabling people from around the world to study our collection, and even allowing scientists to work from home, in case the collection is temporarily inaccessible.

A camera above a large black box, next to a laptop

Final Destination

Digitising the spooky and nightmarish 'ghost orchids' is only the tip of the iceberg. We still have a long way to go, with the sweet-scented vanilla orchids (Vanilloideae), along with the biggest orchid subfamily Epidendroideae, as our next challenges.

Once our new public collections portal is launched, you'll be able to see the ‘ghosts in the machine’ for yourselves. Kew's ghost orchids, together with a plethora of other amazing and bizarre plants and fungi, will soon become available to everyone.

In the meantime, witching you a spooky All Hallow’s Eve!

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Ghost Orchid Meaning and Symbolism

Paula Smith

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Orchids, with their exquisite beauty and vast diversity, have long been revered as symbols of grace and allure. Among this botanical treasure trove, the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) stands out as a mystical enigma. Native to the swamps and forests of Florida and Cuba, the Ghost Orchid is known for its ethereal appearance and elusive presence. In this blog post, we’ll embark on a journey to unravel the meaning and symbolism behind the Ghost Orchid, a flower that has long captured the imagination of plant enthusiasts and nature lovers.

The Elusive Ghost Orchid

Before we delve into the symbolism, it’s essential to understand the unique characteristics of the Ghost Orchid that make it stand apart:

  • Transparency: The Ghost Orchid gets its name from its ghostly white, almost translucent petals. These delicate flowers seem to float in mid-air, adding to their otherworldly charm.
  • Epiphytic Nature: Ghost Orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow on trees or other surfaces without harming the host plant. They rely on rain and humidity to obtain nutrients through their specialized root systems.
  • Elusive Blooms: One of the most captivating aspects of the Ghost Orchid is its unpredictable blooming pattern. Some plants may bloom annually, while others may skip years between flowering, making each bloom a rare and cherished event.

Ghost Orchid Meaning and Symbolism

The Ghost Orchid, with its rare and delicate beauty, carries several layers of meaning and symbolism:

  • Ephemeral Beauty: The fleeting presence of the Ghost Orchid reminds us of the transient nature of beauty and life. Its blooms are short-lived, usually lasting only a few weeks. This symbolism encourages us to appreciate and cherish the moments of fleeting beauty that grace our lives.
  • Resilience: The Ghost Orchid’s ability to thrive in challenging environments, such as the dark and humid swamps of Florida, symbolizes resilience and adaptability. It teaches us that even in the most adverse conditions, life can persist and flourish.
  • 3. Mystery and Intrigue: The Ghost Orchid’s elusive nature and almost supernatural appearance have led to associations with mystery and intrigue. It beckons us to explore the hidden and mystical aspects of life and nature.
  • 4. Transformation: Orchids, in general, are often seen as symbols of transformation and renewal. The Ghost Orchid, with its unique beauty and the way it blooms unpredictably, can be a reminder of the potential for transformation and rebirth in our own lives.
  • 5. Connection to Nature: The Ghost Orchid’s epiphytic growth pattern, relying on the natural world for sustenance, symbolizes our interconnectedness with nature. It encourages us to recognize our place in the broader ecosystem and the importance of preserving it.

Conservation and Protection

The Ghost Orchid’s beauty and symbolism have made it a sought-after collector’s item in the past, leading to habitat destruction and endangering its existence. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect this delicate and elusive orchid. Many organizations and botanical gardens work tirelessly to conserve its natural habitats and study its behavior.

Ghost Orchid Meaning and Symbolism

The Ghost Orchid in Art and Culture

The allure of the Ghost Orchid has not been limited to the world of botany. It has found its way into art, literature, and culture, further emphasizing its symbolic significance:

Artistic Inspiration: The Ghost Orchid’s ghostly blooms and elusive nature have inspired artists to capture its beauty on canvas. Paintings and illustrations often showcase the orchid’s ethereal allure.

Literary Symbolism:  In literature, the Ghost Orchid has been used as a symbol of mystery and hidden truths. It represents the idea that there are aspects of the natural world that remain concealed from human understanding.

Cultural Significance:  Indigenous peoples of Florida and Cuba have historically held the Ghost Orchid in high regard. It has been used in traditional medicine and rituals, reflecting its cultural significance.

The Ghost Orchid, with its ephemeral beauty and mysterious allure, is a symbol of the transient nature of life and the resilience of nature. Its symbolism encourages us to appreciate fleeting beauty, embrace mystery, and recognize our connection to the natural world. As we admire the Ghost Orchid’s ghostly blooms, we are reminded of the profound lessons that nature can teach us and the importance of preserving its treasures for generations to come.

While the Ghost Orchid may remain elusive in the wild, its symbolism and beauty can continue to inspire and captivate us, inviting us to explore the mysteries of the natural world and our place within it. In the delicate petals of the Ghost Orchid, we find a reminder of the enchanting and ever-changing tapestry of life on Earth.

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The Magnificent Panama Flower: Unveiling the Holy Ghost Orchid

Panama, a vibrant nation brimming with captivating landscapes and a rich culture, is also home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Among this diverse collection, one flower stands out as an emblem of Panama’s wild beauty – the Peristeria elata, famously known as “The Holy Ghost Orchid.” With its fascinating backstory and stunning appearance, this orchid invites you to embark on a journey through the enchanting world of Panama.

Exploring the Beauty of Peristeria elata

The native habitat of peristeria elata, peristeria elata’s role in the ecosystem, symbolism and meaning: the national flower of panama, other names and interesting facts, growing peristeria elata, other beautiful flowers native to panama, final thoughts.

Peristeria elata, a captivating orchid species, distinguishes itself with its intricate and striking design. Its robust pseudobulb structure grows up to 12 cm in diameter and produces several pleated leaves, creating a lush backdrop for the flowers.

But the real magic lies in its bloom. The tall, upright inflorescence bears clusters of up to 10 flowers, each displaying a distinctive waxy, pure white texture. The central part of the flower, called the column or stem, resembles a dove in flight – hence the name “The Holy Ghost Orchid.” This mystical figure, with wings and a ruffled body, rests delicately within the heart of the flower, creating an image that is as symbolic as it is beautiful. Additionally, the blooms emit a fragrant scent, filling the air with a sweet and enticing aroma from July to October.

Panama Peristeria elata

The Holy Ghost Orchid is native to the tropical forests of Central and South America, ranging from Panama to Peru. In Panama, it thrives in lowland tropical rainforests, cloud forests, and occasionally, seasonally dry forests. This orchid prefers areas with high humidity and indirect sunlight, attaching itself to trees and other plants in its natural epiphytic habitat. It can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to 1,200 meters above sea level.

As a part of the tropical forest ecosystem, the Holy Ghost Orchid plays a vital role in its environment. One of its primary ecological contributions is providing food for pollinators. Bees, attracted by the flower’s sweet scent and attractive form, serve as the primary pollinators for this orchid species. In their quest for nectar, these industrious insects transfer pollen from one flower to another, facilitating the orchid’s reproduction.

Moreover, the orchid’s epiphytic lifestyle benefits the ecosystem by increasing the vertical stratification of the forest. By attaching to tree branches without extracting nutrients, the Holy Ghost Orchid creates additional niches for other species of epiphytes, insects, and birds, thus contributing to biodiversity. However, deforestation and illegal collection pose threats to this sensitive orchid species.

Panama Peristeria elata

Officially declared the national flower of Panama on July 20, 1980, Peristeria elata holds a special place in the hearts of the Panamanian people. Fondly referred to as the ‘Flower of the Holy Spirit’ or ‘Flor del Espiritu Santo,’ it symbolizes purity, spiritual sanctity, and the patriotic spirit of Panama. This orchid’s unique form also represents the nation’s rich biodiversity and environmental commitment.

The dove-like shape of the flower’s central structures contributes to its symbolism. In Christian symbolism, the dove represents the Holy Spirit, giving rise to the flower’s name. Additionally, the Holy Ghost Orchid embodies the spirit of harmony, peace, and freedom, aligning closely with Panama’s national ethos.

Peristeria elata, scientifically known as Peristeria elata and belonging to the Orchidaceae family, is commonly referred to as ‘Flor del Espiritu Santo’ or ‘Dove Orchid’ in Panama and other Spanish-speaking nations. In English, it goes by the names ‘Holy Ghost Orchid’ and ‘Dove Orchid.’ These diverse names reflect the varied cultural interpretations of its unique appearance.

Here are some interesting facts about this captivating flower:

  • The Holy Ghost Orchid is an endangered species due to habitat loss and illegal collecting. It is strictly regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
  • In addition to its dove-like shape, the flower is renowned for its delightful fragrance, often described as similar to beer.
  • The unique appearance of the Holy Ghost Orchid has inspired artists and writers, making it a popular subject in various forms of art and literature.

Cultivating the ‘Flower of the Holy Spirit’ can be a rewarding experience, but it requires specific conditions for optimal growth:

  • Light: Provide bright, indirect light, avoiding excessive direct sunlight to prevent leaf burn.
  • Temperature: Maintain daytime temperatures around 75-85°F (24-29°C) and night temperatures of 60-65°F (15-18°C).
  • Watering: Water thoroughly once a week during the active growth period and reduce watering to once every two weeks during the resting period.
  • Soil: Use a well-draining orchid mix containing fir bark, perlite, and sphagnum moss.
  • Fertilizer: Feed the plant with balanced orchid fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season, reducing feeding during the resting period.
  • Humidity: Maintain humidity levels around 70-80%. Consider using a humidity tray or humidifier in dry environments.

Remember, due to its endangered status, it is discouraged to grow this orchid from seed or cuttings. Source plants responsibly from reputable nurseries that propagate their plants from divisions or lab-grown specimens.

Panama Peristeria elata

Panama boasts a plethora of stunning native flowers. Alongside the Holy Ghost Orchid, you can find:

  • Passiflora Vitifolia: Also known as the grape-leaved passion fruit, this vine showcases striking crimson flowers against deep green foliage.
  • Anthuriums: Vibrant and glossy heart-shaped “flowers” adorn these plants, with Anthurium andreanum, the flamingo lily, being a standout.
  • Bromeliads: These tropical plants come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Panama is home to species such as Aechmea fulgens and Guzmania lingulata.
  • Heliconias: Recognized as “lobster-claws” for their unique shape, heliconias bring a touch of exoticism with their vibrant colors.
  • Ginger Flowers: Torch ginger (Etlingera elatior) and red ginger (Alpinia purpurata) add splashes of color to Panama’s natural surroundings.

Peristeria elata, Panama’s national flower, is not merely a beautiful orchid; it symbolizes the nation’s rich natural heritage and its remarkable biodiversity. This unique flower, with its dove-like shape, captivates with its beauty and inspires with its resilience.

Just as the dove symbolizes peace, the ‘Flower of the Holy Spirit’ serves as a reminder of the harmony found in nature when we strive to protect and preserve it. As we conclude our exploration of Panama’s floral emblem, we invite you to share your thoughts, experiences, and perhaps even encounters with this incredible flower.

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  • Sep 12, 2021

7 Facts About The Rare Ghost Orchid

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

the ghost orchid flower

Living up to it's name in less fortunate ways due to being an endangered species, the Ghost Orchid population is sparsely scattered in Cuba, flooded forests of Florida and the Bahamas. Despite being native to remote swamp land and inhabiting small wooded islands, the Ghost Orchid still faces an array of threats from climate change, human poaching, pollinator and habitat loss which has unfortunately experienced steady decline over the years. This unique floral phantom is aptly named for multiple reasons as its white flowers have a vaguely spectral appearance which then seem to hover in the forest due to an illusion created by the leafless plant. Here to honour its haunting mystique, this article delves into the world of the Ghost Orchid.

1. Once a year bloom- or not at all

Blooming between June-August just once per year for a couple of weeks this orchid can sometimes also take the year off as only around 10% of Ghost Orchids may bloom in any given year, making them an unreliable bloomer. To add insult to injury, as few as 10% of these may only be pollinated so not many people get the chance to witness these beauties.

2. Scales instead of leaves

Known as a "leafless" orchid as the leaves have been reduced to scales with more mature plants seeming to lack foliage, the Ghost orchid also appears to have a reduced stem, often difficult to see if you manage to find one in the wild. Due to its lack of foliage, these orchids appear to be suspended in air as they attach themselves to tree trunks via a few roots.

3. Mostly made of roots

Consisting mostly of roots instead of leaves and a stem, the Ghost orchid typically grows on tree bark without any soil requirement due to it being an epiphyte. Tending to grow on the main trunk or large boughs of a living tree several feet from the ground, epiphytes don't cause any trouble as they do not seek nutrients from their hosts.

4. The roots act like leaves

While the Ghost Orchid may not have leaves to speak of, photosynthesis still occurs in the roots are they contain chlorophyll, rendering leaves unnecessary. Not only do the roots anchor the orchid to the tree, they are the main source of taking in water and nutrients. The roots also feature pneumatodes which are small white marks which perform the gas exchange needed for respiration and photosynthesis. When the orchid isn't in bloom, the mass of roots have been compared to unremarkable bits of green linguine as stated by National Geographic's Douglas Main.

5. Floating forest flowers

As discussed in the intro, the bark of the trees where the orchids grow blends in with the Ghost Orchids greenish roots, allowing them to be well camouflaged when not in bloom season high up in the canopies. During the short period when in bloom, a thin spike extending outward from the roots can be seen which acts as a suspender, allowing the flower to dangle as if its floating freely in the air which makes this orchid a sight to behold. The lower petal known as the labellum, has two long and lateral tendrils which twist slightly downward, resembling the hind legs of a jumping frog.

6. Fruity scent in the morning time

Scientists have discovered that the most intense fragrance emitted is in the early morning, with the fruity scent resembling that of an apple. Their sweet nighttime scent attracts giant sphinx moths that pollinate the plants with their proboscis –long enough to reach pollen hidden deep within the flower of the ghost orchid.

7. The specialist pollinator

For ghost orchids, the long-tongued pollinator known as the giant sphinx moth which is native to South and Central America but pretty rare in the continent of North America is widely described as the sole pollinator of ghost orchids, thanks to its long proboscis and a lack of evidence for any other pollinators. Its larvae feed on the pond apple tree, which is also an important host for ghost orchids.

The pollen of the ghost orchid is deep within its flowers so can only be pollinated by an insect with a long enough proboscis to reach all the way down inside. Darwin actually identified the need for this particular pollinator to have an unusually lengthy tongue in order to successfully pollinate such a long flower.

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the ghost orchid flower

Is Ghost Orchid Carnivorous? (The Truth Revealed)

the ghost orchid flower

Have you ever heard of the mysterious Ghost Orchid? With its unique fragrant white flowers, it has captivated the imaginations of many.

But what makes this beautiful orchid so special? Is it really carnivorous, as some have speculated? In this article, we’ll dive into the truth behind the Ghost Orchid, explore its unique symbiotic relationship, learn about its fragrant white flowers, and discover how we can help preserve this unique species.

Read on to learn more about the remarkable Ghost Orchid!

Table of Contents

Short Answer

No, the Ghost Orchid is not carnivorous.

It is an epiphytic orchid which means it obtains nutrients from the air, rain, and debris which accumulates around its roots.

It is not known to actively hunt for food or insects, instead relying on its roots to absorb nutrients from its environment.

What is the Ghost Orchid?

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) is an exotic, rare, and highly sought-after flower native to the swamps of South Florida.

It is a part of the orchid family, and is recognized for its fragrant white flowers that bloom in the summer months.

The ghost orchid can be found growing on the trunks of trees, as it is an epiphyte, meaning it gets its nutrients from the air rather than from the soil like other plants.

It is an exotic and highly sought-after flower, as it is difficult to find and cultivate.

The ghost orchid’s white blooms are often pollinated by hawkmoths, which are attracted to the flower’s sweet scent.

The ghost orchid is not a carnivorous plant, meaning it does not feed on insects or animals, unlike other carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap.

Instead, it relies on a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil to provide it with the nutrients it needs to survive.

This relationship between the ghost orchid and its fungus is known as mycorrhizal association.

The ghost orchid is a protected species, and it is illegal to pick or uproot the flower in the wild without a permit.

Conservation of this species is important, as it is a rare and beautiful flower that deserves to be protected and appreciated.

Is the Ghost Orchid Carnivorous?

the ghost orchid flower

The question of whether the ghost orchid is carnivorous or not has been a topic of debate for years.

While some people claim that the ghost orchid is a carnivorous plant, others maintain that this is not true.

To answer this question definitively, it’s important to look at the scientific evidence.

The ghost orchid is a rare flower native to the swamps of South Florida.

It is an epiphyte, meaning that it grows on other plants and gets its nutrients from the air.

It does not feed on animals or insects, but instead relies on a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil to provide it with nutrients.

This means that it is not a carnivorous plant it does not consume animals or insects for its sustenance.

The ghost orchid’s fragrant white flowers bloom in the summer months and attract pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

These pollinators are responsible for transferring the flower’s pollen to other flowers, enabling the ghost orchid to reproduce.

Without pollinators, the ghost orchid would not be able to reproduce and would eventually become extinct.

Therefore, it is clear that the ghost orchid is not a carnivorous plant and does not feed on animals or insects.

Instead, it relies on a symbiotic relationship with fungi in the soil and on pollinators to survive and reproduce.

This means that the answer to the question, “Is the ghost orchid carnivorous?” is a resounding “No.”.

The Ghost Orchids Symbiotic Relationship

The ghost orchid is a fascinating and rare species of flower that is native to the swamps of South Florida.

It is not a carnivorous plant, meaning that it does not feed on animals or insects.

Rather, it has an interesting symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil that provides it with nutrients.

This unique relationship is known as mycorrhizal symbiosis, and it is essential for the growth and survival of the ghost orchid.

The fungus provides essential nutrients to the orchid, such as phosphorus, carbon, and nitrogen, in exchange for sugar molecules created by photosynthesis. This relationship is beneficial to both parties: the fungus gets energy from the orchid, and the orchid gets essential nutrients from the fungus.

In addition to this symbiotic relationship, the ghost orchid is an epiphyte, meaning that it grows on other plants and gets its nutrients from the air.

Its fragrant white flowers bloom in the summer months and attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

Though the ghost orchid is not carnivorous, it has an interesting and unique relationship with its environment that ensures its survival.

This symbiotic relationship makes the ghost orchid an important part of South Florida’s ecosystem, and understanding its biology is essential to protect this beautiful and rare species.

The Ghost Orchids Fragrant White Flowers

the ghost orchid flower

The Ghost Orchid is a rare flower native to the swamps of South Florida, and is known for its fragrant white flowers.

These flowers bloom in the summer months, and are known to attract pollinators.

The white flowers are delicate and exquisite, with a sweet scent that is unlike any other flower in the area.

The flowers are also surprisingly resilient, and can survive in the harsh conditions that the swamps often present.

They are able to do this because of their unique symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil that provides them with the necessary nutrients.

The fungus also helps the Ghost Orchid to stay hydrated in dry conditions.

The Ghost Orchid’s fragrant white flowers are a sight to behold, and are a testament to the resilience of the species.

They are a reminder of the beauty that can be found in nature, even in the harshest of conditions.

The Ghost Orchid’s white flowers are a unique feature that makes it stand out from other flowers in the area, and are sure to attract any pollinator that passes by.

How the Ghost Orchid Attracts Pollinators

The ghost orchid is an epiphyte, meaning that it grows on other plants and gets its nutrients from the air.

Its fragrant white flowers bloom in the summer months and attract pollinators.

The ghost orchid’s unique floral structure helps to ensure pollination by different types of insects.

Its elongated petals and sepals form a “trap” for the pollinators, who become trapped inside the flower until they successfully pollinate it.

The flower also emits a sweet scent that helps to attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators from miles away.

Additionally, the ghost orchid has evolved to be highly attractive to certain species of pollinators, which is another factor in its successful pollination.

The ghost orchid’s reliance on pollinators for reproduction is one of the reasons why it is classified as a threatened species.

As its habitat is increasingly being destroyed, its pollinators are becoming increasingly scarce.

This means that the ghost orchid has to compete with other flower species for pollinators, and its chances of successful pollination are becoming increasingly slim.

Conservation efforts are thus necessary to ensure that the ghost orchid’s pollinators, and thus its reproduction, are not lost forever.

The Ghost Orchids Vulnerability

the ghost orchid flower

The ghost orchid is a rare and delicate flower that is native to the swamps of South Florida.

It is a species that is highly vulnerable and has been on the brink of extinction in recent years due to its fragility and the specific conditions it needs to survive.

Ghost orchids require a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil to provide it with nutrients, making it an epiphyte, meaning it grows on other plants and gets its nutrients from the air.

The ghost orchid is a truly remarkable species that has captivated the interest of many due to its beauty and rarity.

Its fragrant white flowers can bloom for several weeks in the summer months, attracting pollinators and making it truly a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, its fragility and vulnerability also makes it a highly sought after species, as it is often poached and taken from its natural habitat.

The delicate nature of the ghost orchid has made it a topic of much fascination and debate regarding its dietary requirements.

Many people have wondered whether or not this species is carnivorous, as it is not seen to directly feed on animals or insects, as do many other carnivorous plants.

The truth is that the ghost orchid is not carnivorous, and instead relies on the symbiotic relationship with the fungus in the soil to provide it with the nutrients it needs to survive.

Despite not being carnivorous, the ghost orchid is still a very vulnerable species that needs to be protected and cared for in order to ensure its survival.

With its fragility and rarity, it is important that we do all we can to protect this species and its habitat in order to ensure it continues to be a part of the Florida landscape for generations to come.

How to Help Preserve the Ghost Orchid

The ghost orchid is a rare flower native to the swamps of South Florida and its preservation is of great importance.

One of the most effective ways to help preserve this unique species is to practice responsible tourism.

This means avoiding trampling on the fragile plants, taking only pictures, and not collecting specimens.

If you do plan to visit the area, be sure to research the rules and regulations before you go, as some areas have restrictions in place to protect the species.

Another way to help preserve the ghost orchid is to support conservation efforts.

Donating to organizations that are dedicated to protecting the species or volunteering your time to help with research can make a big difference.

There are also organizations that provide educational programs on the ghost orchid, helping to spread awareness of the species and its importance.

Finally, you can help preserve the ghost orchid by becoming a responsible gardener.

If you are interested in growing this species in your own garden, make sure to purchase plants from a reputable supplier.

Avoid harvesting plants from the wild, as this can have a negative impact on the species.

Be sure to provide the ghost orchid with the right growing conditions, such as moist, acidic soil and partial shade.

With proper care, you can help ensure that this rare species continues to thrive for generations to come.

Final Thoughts

So, is the ghost orchid carnivorous? The answer is no.

Instead, this rare flower relies on a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil to provide it with nutrients, and the fragrant white flowers that bloom in the summer attract pollinators.

Unfortunately, the ghost orchid is vulnerable to extinction due to human activities.

To help preserve this unique species, we should educate ourselves about the importance of conservation and contribute to the conservation efforts of organizations devoted to protecting the ghost orchid and its habitat.

James Simpson

James is a thirty-one year old man who loves to write about flowers. He is always eager to learn more about different types and how to care for them. He has a knack for finding rare and beautiful varieties and is always on the lookout for something new.

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Explored Planet

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Stunning Photos Of The Rarest Flowers On Earth

Posted: November 20, 2023 | Last updated: November 21, 2023

<p>Flowers play an important role in keeping the earth in equilibrium. They can feed insects, and other animals, be used as natural medicine, and help with plant reproduction through pollination. Not only do flowers provide many incredible benefits, but they are also one of the earth's most beautiful sights.</p> <p> There are over 400,000 different species of flowers around the world, so it's unlikely to see them all within a lifetime. The rarest are often the ones with the most unique features.</p>

Flowers play an important role in keeping the earth in equilibrium. They can feed insects, and other animals, be used as natural medicine, and help with plant reproduction through pollination. Not only do flowers provide many incredible benefits, but they are also one of the earth's most beautiful sights.

There are over 400,000 different species of flowers around the world, so it's unlikely to see them all within a lifetime. The rarest are often the ones with the most unique features.

<p>The scientific name for the ghost orchid is dendrophylax lindenii and it's most commonly found in Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas. There are so few of them on earth because they are nearly impossible to grow.</p> <p>Something unique about the ghost orchid is that it doesn't depend on photosynthesis to survive. The flower has no leaves and must attach to a host tree in order to grow. It's now on the endangered species list because most orchid growers have failed at cultivating it both in the wild and in sterile environments.</p>

The Ghost Orchid Is Now Endangered

The scientific name for the ghost orchid is dendrophylax lindenii and it's most commonly found in Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas. There are so few of them on earth because they are nearly impossible to grow.

Something unique about the ghost orchid is that it doesn't depend on photosynthesis to survive. The flower has no leaves and must attach to a host tree in order to grow. It's now on the endangered species list because most orchid growers have failed at cultivating it both in the wild and in sterile environments.

<p>The curvature in parrot's beak, or clianthus, flowers are what give them their fitting name. Those who wish to seem them in person can find them on the Canary Islands. These grow best during the spring in cooler temperatures. If conditions constantly change it causes the flower to disappear.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the species started going away in 1884 and very few remain. Almost 90 percent of the population of parrot's beaks have been eliminated over the past 25 years.</p>

Parrot's Beak Almost Looks Like The Real Bird

The curvature in parrot's beak, or clianthus, flowers are what give them their fitting name. Those who wish to seem them in person can find them on the Canary Islands. These grow best during the spring in cooler temperatures. If conditions constantly change it causes the flower to disappear.

Unfortunately, the species started going away in 1884 and very few remain. Almost 90 percent of the population of parrot's beaks have been eliminated over the past 25 years.

<p>The night-blooming cereus is rarely seen throughout the world because it only blooms for one night a year. It also goes by the name of "queen of the night" and gives off a sweet vanilla fragrance.</p> <p>Some cultures also use night-blooming cereus in their cuisine. For example, it is a common ingredient found in a Cantonese slow-simmered soup. A few varieties of this flower produce fruits, which can be found in Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hawaii.</p>

Night-Blooming Cereus Do Something Special Once A Year

The night-blooming cereus is rarely seen throughout the world because it only blooms for one night a year. It also goes by the name of "queen of the night" and gives off a sweet vanilla fragrance.

Some cultures also use night-blooming cereus in their cuisine. For example, it is a common ingredient found in a Cantonese slow-simmered soup. A few varieties of this flower produce fruits, which can be found in Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hawaii.

<p>Chocolate cosmos, or cosmos astrosanguineus, are a rare species of flower native to Mexico. They gained popularity around 1861 after those researching the species found that the scent is very similar to chocolate. In order for it to grow properly, it requires fertile, well-drained soil and lots of sun.</p> <p>These deep red and brown flowers can grow between 40 and 60 centimeters tall and are usually found in pine or oak forests. There were rumors of its extinction, but botanist Aaron Rodriguez found plenty of them in various states across Mexico.</p>

Chocolate Cosmos Smell Just How You'd Imagine

Chocolate cosmos, or cosmos astrosanguineus, are a rare species of flower native to Mexico. They gained popularity around 1861 after those researching the species found that the scent is very similar to chocolate. In order for it to grow properly, it requires fertile, well-drained soil and lots of sun.

These deep red and brown flowers can grow between 40 and 60 centimeters tall and are usually found in pine or oak forests. There were rumors of its extinction, but botanist Aaron Rodriguez found plenty of them in various states across Mexico.

<p>The black bat flower is scientifically known as tacca chantrieri and is actually part of the yam family. They are most commonly found in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, and southern China.</p> <p>One of their most striking features are their whiskers, which can reach up to 28 inches in length. Most black bat flowers prefer shade, high humidity, and need a lot of water. All of their nutrients are stored in a bulb that's hidden beneath the soil.</p>

The Black Bat Flower Has Some Striking Physical Features

The black bat flower is scientifically known as tacca chantrieri and is actually part of the yam family. They are most commonly found in the Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, and southern China.

One of their most striking features are their whiskers, which can reach up to 28 inches in length. Most black bat flowers prefer shade, high humidity, and need a lot of water. All of their nutrients are stored in a bulb that's hidden beneath the soil.

<p>Jade vines are also known as strongylodon macroboyrys and are only found in tropical rainforests in the Philippines. It's closely related to the bean family, specifically kidney and runner beans. They were first discovered in 1841 by members of the United States Exploring Expedition.</p> <p>Bats regularly visit jade vines because they pollinate them. The bats will hang upside down on the jade vine and drink its nectar. They're also visited by some species of wasps and butterflies.</p>

Jade Vines Get Lots Of Visitors

Jade vines are also known as strongylodon macroboyrys and are only found in tropical rainforests in the Philippines. It's closely related to the bean family, specifically kidney and runner beans. They were first discovered in 1841 by members of the United States Exploring Expedition.

Bats regularly visit jade vines because they pollinate them. The bats will hang upside down on the jade vine and drink its nectar. They're also visited by some species of wasps and butterflies.

<p>No one had even seen a Juliet rose until it debuted at a famous flower show in 2006. The best way to tell a Juliet rose from another species of rose is by the hue of its petals. A Juliet rose has pale peach outer petals and deep peach inner petals.</p> <p>The creator of this flower spent 15 years and over three million dollars to make sure that it would be perfect. Ombré color patterns are also one of the biggest flower trends at the moment.</p>

The Juliet Rose Has Color-Changing Petals

No one had even seen a Juliet rose until it debuted at a famous flower show in 2006. The best way to tell a Juliet rose from another species of rose is by the hue of its petals. A Juliet rose has pale peach outer petals and deep peach inner petals.

The creator of this flower spent 15 years and over three million dollars to make sure that it would be perfect. Ombré color patterns are also one of the biggest flower trends at the moment.

<p>Lotus flowers are often referred to as water lilies because they are an aquatic species. Most of the lotus flowers around today originated from seeds that came from a northeastern China lakebed over 1,300 years ago.</p> <p>Most people who've looked at lotus flowers in person have mainly seen pink varieties because the white ones are extremely rare. Those looking for a white lotus should go to India, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, and eastern Australia. It's also the national flower of India.</p>

White Lotus Flowers Thrive In The Water

Lotus flowers are often referred to as water lilies because they are an aquatic species. Most of the lotus flowers around today originated from seeds that came from a northeastern China lakebed over 1,300 years ago.

Most people who've looked at lotus flowers in person have mainly seen pink varieties because the white ones are extremely rare. Those looking for a white lotus should go to India, Sri Lanka, New Guinea, and eastern Australia. It's also the national flower of India.

<p>Flame lilies, also known as gloriosa Superba, are the national flower of Zimbabwe. They are some of the most delicate flowers of all time, but they have a dark side. This flower contains colchicine and other alkaloids that make it dangerously toxic.</p> <p>It's poisonous if eaten and can cause skin irritation when touched by the stems or leaves. On the bright side, many areas in India and Africa use parts of the flower for medicine.</p>

Why You Should Be Careful Around A Flame Lily

Flame lilies, also known as gloriosa Superba, are the national flower of Zimbabwe. They are some of the most delicate flowers of all time, but they have a dark side. This flower contains colchicine and other alkaloids that make it dangerously toxic.

It's poisonous if eaten and can cause skin irritation when touched by the stems or leaves. On the bright side, many areas in India and Africa use parts of the flower for medicine.

<p>Flowers play an important role in keeping the earth in equilibrium. They can feed insects, and other animals, be used as natural medicine, and help with plant reproduction through pollination. Not only do flowers provide many incredible benefits, but they are also one of the earth's most beautiful sights.</p> <p> There are over 400,000 different species of flowers around the world, so it's unlikely to see them all within a lifetime. The rarest are often the ones with the most unique features.</p>

How The Stinking Corpse Lily Got Its Name

The stinking corpse lily, otherwise known as the rafflesia arnoldi, is the largest flower on the planet. It is most commonly found in Indonesia where it can grow up to three feet in diameter.

Unlike most flowers, the stinking corpse lily doesn't show any stems, roots, or leaves when it's in bloom. Its odor is extremely strong and is best compared to decaying flesh. The very first discovery was by a European botanist named Louis Auguste Deschamps in 1797.

<p>The Franklin tree flower, otherwise known as Franklinia, belongs to the tea plant family and is native to the Altamaha River in Georgia. The dark green leaves that surround the actual flower turn red in the autumn.</p> <p>It was named after Benjamin Franklin as it was first discovered in 1765. The Franklin tree flower doesn't exist in the wild anymore but has been replaced with existing plants that descended from the original seeds. It's likely the extinction was caused by a fungal disease throughout the cotton crops. </p>

The Franklin Tree Flower Has Been Around Since The Colonial Era

The Franklin tree flower, otherwise known as Franklinia, belongs to the tea plant family and is native to the Altamaha River in Georgia. The dark green leaves that surround the actual flower turn red in the autumn.

It was named after Benjamin Franklin as it was first discovered in 1765. The Franklin tree flower doesn't exist in the wild anymore but has been replaced with existing plants that descended from the original seeds. It's likely the extinction was caused by a fungal disease throughout the cotton crops.

<p>Those wanting to see middlemist red flowers, or camellias, in person can only find them in London or New Zealand. This species was brought from China to London in 1804 by botanist John Middlemist.</p> <p>It was thought to be extinct, but scientists were able to find rare sightings of it in 1999. Humans have used the middlemist red flowers to make tea and as a seasoning for cooking. The oil from the flower is also great for cleaning blades of cutting instruments.</p>

The Many Alternative Uses For Middlemist Red Flowers

Those wanting to see middlemist red flowers, or camellias, in person can only find them in London or New Zealand. This species was brought from China to London in 1804 by botanist John Middlemist.

It was thought to be extinct, but scientists were able to find rare sightings of it in 1999. Humans have used the middlemist red flowers to make tea and as a seasoning for cooking. The oil from the flower is also great for cleaning blades of cutting instruments.

<p>The corpse flower, also known as titan arum or amorphophallus titanum, is one of the largest flowers in the world. Similar to the stinking corpse lily, it is also found in Indonesian rainforests.</p> <p>It was first discovered by an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari in 1878. These massive flowers can reach up to 12 feet in length and they get their name because they smell similar to rotten meat or flesh. Its smell attracts insects who feed on nonliving animals to act as pollinators.</p>

You Probably Don't Want To Smell A Corpse Flower

The corpse flower, also known as titan arum or amorphophallus titanum, is one of the largest flowers in the world. Similar to the stinking corpse lily, it is also found in Indonesian rainforests.

It was first discovered by an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari in 1878. These massive flowers can reach up to 12 feet in length and they get their name because they smell similar to rotten meat or flesh. Its smell attracts insects who feed on nonliving animals to act as pollinators.

<p>Gibraltar campions, or silene tomentosas, can only be found in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. Their colors range from pink to pale violet and they were thought to be an extinct species.</p> <p>Luckily, they were rediscovered in 1994 when they were found growing in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. After the discovery, some seeds were taken to the Millennium Seed Bank and Royal Botanic Garden in order for it to be preserved forever. Those who wish to see it in nature can find it along the rock outcrops of the Rock of Gibraltar.</p>

How The Gibraltar Campions Are Prevented From Extinction

Gibraltar campions, or silene tomentosas, can only be found in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. Their colors range from pink to pale violet and they were thought to be an extinct species.

Luckily, they were rediscovered in 1994 when they were found growing in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. After the discovery, some seeds were taken to the Millennium Seed Bank and Royal Botanic Garden in order for it to be preserved forever. Those who wish to see it in nature can find it along the rock outcrops of the Rock of Gibraltar.

<p>The lady's slipper orchid got its name because the flower itself looks very similar to an actual woman's slipper. The purpose of the pouch is to trap insects, so they are forced to climb up through it to deposit pollen and fertilize the flower.</p> <p>This unique flower can be found in parts of Europe such as Spain and other areas around Asia. It has been protected by the United Kingdom's Wildlife and Countryside Act since 1981.</p>

Lady's Slipper Orchids Look Real Enough To Wear

The lady's slipper orchid got its name because the flower itself looks very similar to an actual woman's slipper. The purpose of the pouch is to trap insects, so they are forced to climb up through it to deposit pollen and fertilize the flower.

This unique flower can be found in parts of Europe such as Spain and other areas around Asia. It has been protected by the United Kingdom's Wildlife and Countryside Act since 1981.

<p>One of the most expensive orchids of all time is the Rothschild's slipper orchid. It is only found on the island of Borneo in Sabah, Malaysia, and takes up to 15 years to grow.</p> <p>The Rothschild's slipper orchid's boldest feature is the dark vertical stripes that curve around the petals. The green and red-spotted petals also attracts parasitic flies, so they can lay their eggs there. The most common time the flower is in full bloom is during the spring months of April and May.</p>

Why The Rothschild's Slipper Orchid Has So Many Colors

One of the most expensive orchids of all time is the Rothschild's slipper orchid. It is only found on the island of Borneo in Sabah, Malaysia, and takes up to 15 years to grow.

The Rothschild's slipper orchid's boldest feature is the dark vertical stripes that curve around the petals. The green and red-spotted petals also attracts parasitic flies, so they can lay their eggs there. The most common time the flower is in full bloom is during the spring months of April and May.

<p>The western underground orchid is native to western Australia and its name implies that it blooms and lives completely underground. Sadly, this flower is critically endangered and on its way to extinction. There are less than 50 of them alive today.</p> <p>The first western underground orchid was first discovered in 1928 when a gardener named Jack Trott found one in his wheatbelt. It created so much excitement that a wax model of the flower toured around the British Isles.</p>

Western Underground Orchids Are Almost Gone

The western underground orchid is native to western Australia and its name implies that it blooms and lives completely underground. Sadly, this flower is critically endangered and on its way to extinction. There are less than 50 of them alive today.

The first western underground orchid was first discovered in 1928 when a gardener named Jack Trott found one in his wheatbelt. It created so much excitement that a wax model of the flower toured around the British Isles.

<p>Even though there are about 75 different species of hydrangeas, they are still considered to be quite rare. Most are native to the Asian countries of Korea, China, and Japan, but some are also found in the United States.</p> <p>The word "hydrangea" is derived from the Greek language and means "water vessel." This refers to the shape of its seed capsules. Hydrangeas previously went by the name Hortensia, which comes from the wife of famous French clockmaker Jean-André Lepaute.</p>

Hydrangeas Have Greek And French Roots

Even though there are about 75 different species of hydrangeas, they are still considered to be quite rare. Most are native to the Asian countries of Korea, China, and Japan, but some are also found in the United States.

The word "hydrangea" is derived from the Greek language and means "water vessel." This refers to the shape of its seed capsules. Hydrangeas previously went by the name Hortensia, which comes from the wife of famous French clockmaker Jean-André Lepaute.

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11 rarest flowers in the world

A story of our planet's rarest blooms.

Embark on a journey through the rarest blooms on our planet, where each petal tells a story of resilience and uniqueness. These 11 rare flowers stand as testament to the extraordinary wonders nature has to offer, inviting us to appreciate and protect the delicate beauty that graces our world.

BCCL - Non Copyright

Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii)

Hidden in the swamps of Florida and Cuba, this elusive orchid, known as the Ghost Orchid, is a rare marvel recognized for its ethereal beauty.

Middlemist's Red (Middlemist camellia)

Native to China and nearly extinct in the wild, Middlemist's Red dazzles with its vibrant crimson petals, making it one of the rarest flowers globally.

Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum)

The Corpse Flower, famed for its pungent odor, blooms infrequently in Sumatra, Indonesia, and is the world's largest flower.

Youtan Poluo (Scientifically Undetermined)

Known as the "Buddha's Hand," Youtan Poluo blossoms once in 3,000 years, according to Buddhist belief, and is an enigmatic rarity.

Kadupul Flower (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

Revered in Sri Lanka for its nocturnal blooming and fragrant petals, the Kadupul Flower is a rare gem that graces the night.

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Jade vine (strongylodon macrobotrys).

Native to the Philippines, the Jade Vine enchants with its turquoise-hued cascading blossoms, making it a sought-after rarity.

Chocolate Cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)

Originating from Mexico, the Chocolate Cosmos lures with its velvety, dark brown blooms, emitting a delightful chocolate fragrance.

Rafflesia Arnoldii

Boasting the title of the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia Arnoldii, found in Southeast Asia, enthralls with its enormous, foul-smelling blooms.

Shenzhen Nongke Orchid (Shenzhen Nongke)

Man-made yet exceedingly rare, the Shenzhen Nongke Orchid is a testament to human horticultural prowess, requiring eight years to blossom.

Attenborough's Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes attenboroughii)

Discovered in the Philippines, this carnivorous plant with enormous pitchers is named after naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Western Underground Orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri)

The Western Underground Orchid, native to Australia, baffles with its subterranean lifestyle, blooming entirely underground.

Thanks For Reading!

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Discovered on the island of Madagascar, A. bigibbum was found by Kew botanist Johan Herman

Tree that lives underground among newly named plant species

Volcano-top orchid also named by scientists contending with extinctions caused by the human destruction of nature

Two types of tree and a palm that live underground are among the new plant species named in 2023 and highlighted by scientists at the Royal Botanical Garden Kew in the UK.

The palm is unique, as the only species known to flower and fruit almost exclusively underground, and was discovered in Borneo. The trees were discovered in the deep Kalahari sands of highland Angola, where the free-draining terrain has led a number of species evolving to live at least 90% underground.

Other new species include an orchid found atop a volcano, fungi from the apparently barren wastes of Antarctica and a novel fungus found in food waste in South Korea. The most mysterious new species is a plant from Mozambique that appears to be carnivorous.

There are 400,000 named plant species but scientists estimate there are another 100,000 yet to be identified. The botanists are in a race against time to discover many plants and fungi before the ongoing destruction of the natural world drives them to extinction. Lost species not only means their unique biology is gone for ever, but also potential human uses as medicines , food and even plastic recyclers .

Every year, scientists around the world name about 2,500 new species of plant and the same number of fungi. In 2023, RGB Kew researchers named 74 plants and 15 fungi species.

“It is imperative now, more so than ever, that we do everything in our power to go out into the field with our partners and work out which species of plants and fungi we haven’t given a scientific description yet,” said Dr Martin Cheek, part of RBG Kew’s Africa team. “Without doing so, we risk losing these species without ever even knowing they existed. As we make these wonderful new discoveries, we must remember that nature is under threat, and we have the power to do something about it.”

About 40% of named plant species are threatened with extinction , as habitats are razed for farmland and other human development. But as many as 75% of the world’s undescribed plant species are thought to already be threatened with extinction.

Dr Raquel Pino-Bodas, also at RBG Kew, said: “Although fungi are one of the three major groups of eukaryotes, along with plants and animals, most fungal diversity remains undiscovered. Only 5-10% percent of all existing species are known.”

She said ramping up the search for new species was critical: “Among this incredible diversity of fungal species, we are bound to discover new sources of food, medicines and other active compounds that can help us find nature-based solutions to big challenges.”

Kew mycologist Dr Paul Kirk found a new species of fungi in soya bean waste in South Korea. It is in the same genus as other fungi that thrive in elevated temperatures and can be pathogenic to humans, though this species is thought to be low risk.

“New fungal species are not only found in remote, unexplored areas, they can be found in every environment on the planet,” said Pino-Bodas.

Kew scientists Dr William Baker and Dr Benedikt Kuhnhäuser were tipped off about the underground palm by a Malaysian scientist and local communities that knew of the plant and its bright red fruit. Baker said the find showed that nature still has many surprises up its sleeve and that Indigenous knowledge is a valuable tool for the accelerated discovery of species.

The new orchid species was found fortuitously on top of an extinct volcano on the Indonesian island of Waigeo. The botanists hoped to rediscover a blue orchid that had not been seen for 80 years, which they did. But they also found a new orchid on the summit of Mount Nok, with spectacular, bright red flowers.

Antarctica is a poor place for plant hunting, with the icy continent virtually devoid of flowering plants, but it is home to many lichens. Lichens are a partnership between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. In 2023, Pino-Bodas and colleagues named three new species of fungi that grow on the lichen near the Spanish base on the Antarctic peninsula.

Another curious find was discovered in Mozambique: a plant covered in insect-trapping glandular hairs, like sundews . However, the plant was revealed to be in the genus Crepidorhopalon and therefore unrelated to any known carnivorous plant. The plant has been seen to trap insects and research is now under way to determine if the plant digests them for nutrition.

The other highlighted species named by Kew scientists are nine new species of tobacco from Australia, a Madagascan orchid, and a new violet relative from Thailand. The latter is only known from two sites, both of which are unprotected, and is therefore already considered threatened with extinction. Also threatened by farming and housing expansion is a new species of plant in South Africa that produces the dye indigo.

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  1. Facts About The Ghost Orchid

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  2. Ghost Orchid l Rare and Unsual Orchid Variety

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  3. A Rare Ghost Orchid Grows Only Photograph by Larry Richardson

    the ghost orchid flower

  4. Rare Ghost Orchids Making A Comeback, Thanks To Florida Scientists

    the ghost orchid flower

  5. 7 Facts About The Rare Ghost Orchid

    the ghost orchid flower

  6. Ghost Orchid

    the ghost orchid flower

COMMENTS

  1. What Is A Ghost Orchid

    Ghost orchid plants are also known as white frog orchids, thanks to the frog-like shape of the odd-looking ghost orchid flowers. Read on for more ghost orchid information. Where Do Ghost Orchids Grow? With the exception of a handful of people, nobody knows exactly where ghost orchid plants grow.

  2. Dendrophylax lindenii

    Dendrophylax lindenii, the ghost orchid (a common name also used for Epipogium aphyllum) is a rare perennial epiphyte from the orchid family ( Orchidaceae ). It is native to Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba. [2] [4] Other common names include palm polly and white frog orchid . Name

  3. 11 Enchanting Quirks of the Rare Ghost Orchid

    Home & Garden Garden 11 Enchanting Quirks of the Rare Ghost Orchid By Russell McLendon Updated February 10, 2022 A 20-year-old ghost orchid blooms for only the second time at Florida's...

  4. Ghost Orchid Growing & Care Guide

    The Ghost Orchid, scientifically known as Dendrophylax lindenii, is an enigmatic and mysterious flowering plant that has captured the fascination of botanists, nature enthusiasts, and orchid lovers alike. This rare and elusive orchid is native to the swamps and wetlands of Cuba, the Bahamas, and southern Florida in the United States.

  5. Facts About The Ghost Orchid

    The flowers of Ghost orchid bloom are seen blooming between May and August every year. The flowers can grow up to a size of 4-5 inches. These flowers last up to a period of 14 days. The pollens are secured deep inside the flower that are accessed only a by a giant moth with large antennae.

  6. Ghost Orchid

    Info Ghost Orchid Big Cypress National Preserve is home to over 30 species of orchids. Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world with over 25,000 species known and many more likely in existence.

  7. 'Ghost' orchid that grows in the dark among new plant finds

    A ghost orchid that grows in complete darkness, an insect-trapping tobacco plant and an "exploding firework" flower are among the new species named by scientists in the last year. The species...

  8. Ghost orchid pollination revealed for first time in incredible photos

    15:50 Rare ghost orchid has multiple pollinators, groundbreaking video reveals Scientists and photographers captured footage that upends what we know about the famed, endangered flower....

  9. Dendrophylax lindenii (Ghost Orchid, Palm Polly): Go Orchids

    Ghost Orchid, Palm Polly. It was once believed that the night flying Giant Sphinx Moth, Cocytius antaeus, was the only insect in North America with a long enough proboscis to reach the nectar in this orchid's long spur and pollinate its flowers. Recent field work has documented other moth species such as Eumorpha labruscae and Protambulyx ...

  10. Discovery reveals secrets about how ghost orchids reproduce

    Photograph by Carlton Ward, Jr. Deep in remote Florida swamps, a team of researchers and photographers have made a new discovery that upends what we thought we knew about the ghost orchid, one of the world's most iconic flowers, and how it reproduces. These rare, charming orchids were long thought to be pollinated by a single insect: the ...

  11. The Rarest Plant in Britain Makes a Ghostly Appearance

    How It All Began It starts back in 1855, when a Mrs. Anderson Smith (I see her in a full skirt, edging her way down a steep dirt trail to a silvery brook in Herefordshire, England) catches sight of...

  12. These Photos Reveal the Pollination Secrets of Florida's Most Elusive

    The ghost orchid is one of the rarest and most mysterious flowers in North America. Until recently, scientists could only guess at how the 2,000 or so plants that cling to the trees in Florida's remote old-growth swamp forests are pollinated—no one had ever photographed the event before.

  13. PDF How to Grow the Ghost Orchid

    The plaque should be about 6 inches (12.5 cm) wide by 16 inches (40 cm) long, remembering that it is hopefully going to be home to the orchid plant for many years and must be large enough for the plant to fully mature. Once the plant attaches, it will be impossible to remove the specimen and place it on another mount.

  14. Florida's rare ghost orchids are getting cut off from water

    The ghost orchid is an unusual, and unusually beautiful, flower found only in Cuba and the flooded forests of South Florida, where there are about 2,000 of the plants. This species, which draws ...

  15. Homestead Stories: The Ghost Orchid • Insteading

    There is actually a flower called a ghost orchid, and its tiny, spindly flower with no leaves, looks eerily like a ghost clinging to the bark of trees. Not found outside of Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba, the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii) is sadly, becoming an endangered species. In Florida, there are around 2,000 ghost orchids.

  16. Epipogium aphyllum

    Some Plant facts Flowers. The ghost orchid is an extremely attractive plant, irrespective of its almost legendary status as a rarity. The flowers are large for the overall size of the orchid (often less than 10cm tall…) slightly pendent and delicately hued. The lip has a crinkled margin with a large, triangular central lobe, it is whitish to ...

  17. Garden's Ghost Orchid Shines in Global Spotlight

    Our ghost orchid—a star at London's Chelsea Flower Show and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew—was set up for success by an international conservation team. The unexpected call came in mid-February. Could the Chicago Botanic Garden present a blooming ghost orchid on a global stage in London?

  18. The Ghost Orchid: one of Britain's rarest plants

    Regarded as extinct Ghost Orchids were first discovered in Britain in 1854 but were only seen 11 times before the 1950s. They were seen regularly in a few Chilterns sites between 1953 and 1987 but then disappeared and were regarded as extinct until one plant was discovered in 2009.

  19. Digital séance: Bringing the 'ghost orchids' to life

    The 'ghost orchids' have some of the weirdest-looking flowers, since many of them evolved to mimic animals. Groups such as the bee orchids (Ophrys) and the duck orchids (Caleana) can produce flowers that mimic bees, flies and wasps. These deceptive orchids do not just replicate the appearance of insects, but also their pheromones — chemicals ...

  20. Ghost Orchid Meaning and Symbolism

    in Flowers meaning and symbolism Orchids, with their exquisite beauty and vast diversity, have long been revered as symbols of grace and allure. Among this botanical treasure trove, the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) stands out as a mystical enigma.

  21. The Magnificent Panama Flower: Unveiling the Holy Ghost Orchid

    September 23, 2023 by PlantCian. Panama, a vibrant nation brimming with captivating landscapes and a rich culture, is also home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Among this diverse collection, one flower stands out as an emblem of Panama's wild beauty - the Peristeria elata, famously known as "The Holy Ghost Orchid.".

  22. 7 Facts About The Rare Ghost Orchid

    Floating forest flowers As discussed in the intro, the bark of the trees where the orchids grow blends in with the Ghost Orchids greenish roots, allowing them to be well camouflaged when not in bloom season high up in the canopies.

  23. Is Ghost Orchid Carnivorous? (The Truth Revealed)

    The Ghost Orchid is a rare flower native to the swamps of South Florida, and is known for its fragrant white flowers. These flowers bloom in the summer months, and are known to attract pollinators. The white flowers are delicate and exquisite, with a sweet scent that is unlike any other flower in the area.

  24. Stunning Photos Of The Rarest Flowers On Earth

    The scientific name for the ghost orchid is dendrophylax lindenii and it's most commonly found in Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas. ... The lady's slipper orchid got its name because the flower ...

  25. 11 rarest flowers in the world

    From Ghostly orchids to Chocolate cosmos, here are the 11 rarest flowers in the world. Jan 13, 2024. ... Hidden in the swamps of Florida and Cuba, this elusive orchid, known as the Ghost Orchid ...

  26. Tree that lives underground among newly named plant species

    Last modified on Thu 11 Jan 2024 04.58 EST. Two types of tree and a palm that live underground are among the new plant species named in 2023 and highlighted by scientists at the Royal Botanical ...