Ghost Hunters, Part II
There is no shortage of danger in the Everglades. Our quest to find the rare and endangered Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) in the swamps of South Florida has led us to a tiny slough in a remote area of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
I have seen one Ghost Orchid in the wild – the now famous Corkscrew Swamp “Super Ghost” that can be seen at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, FL. It’s the only orchid whose location is not a secret. It’s unusual in that it was discovered growing forty-five up on the trunk of a Bald Cypress. It also showed off eleven blooms at one point and could be seen for several weeks straight.
Ghost Orchids are most commonly found growing on Pop Ash or Pond Apple trees, offer one bloom for a couple weeks in the summer and can be found floating like an apparition just a few inches from the tree and just above eye level.
Our quest involved wading hip-deep in cool water from tree trunk to tree trunk, looking for the signature spider-like tendrils of the Ghost Orchid. Unseen underwater logs impeded progress while floating debris had to be cast aside as we poked our way around the swamp with hiking poles. Here there may be dragons of the Alligator variety but slow, methodical probing of the area around us would most likely encourage any restless reptiles to move elsewhere.
Within a few minutes of entering the slough we had found our first Ghost Orchid plant, an amassment of green, cord-like vegetation with distinct white-dashes, giving each “branch” the appearance of a divided highway. Our next plant offered success in the form of a single, ethereal bloom seemingly suspended in midair.
Ghost Orchids are pollinated by the Giant Sphinx Moth (Cocytius antaeus), a long-tongued night flyer that sips sweet nectar from the unusually long nectary of the Ghost Orchid. By visiting the bloom, the moth unknowingly rubs it’s head on the anther cap or pollinium of the flower. If it visits another flower it has the rare opportunity of assisting in pollination. From there the Ghost casts out wind-borne seeds to hopefully begin the next generation.
After several water-logged hours of listening to the incessant buzzing and biting of “swamp angels”, navigating around softball-sized woods spiders and watching for Cottonmouths and other critters we had the good fortune of discovering over fifty ghost orchids with four in bloom.
My Shangri-la exists but you have to believe in Ghosts.