The Rare and Mysterious Ghost Orchid

The Rare and Mysterious Ghost Orchid

You may have wondered if the “rare and mysterious ghost orchid” is all just hype. But it is rare and endangered…and is illegal to remove or relocate. It’s native to Southwest Florida and Cuba (and perhaps also the island of Hispaniola between Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

In Florida, the range is localized in swamps in the Fakahatchee, Big Cypress and Corkscrew areas of Collier and Hendry counties. The precise locations of these orchids are kept secret to prevent poachers from continuing to take them from their natural environment, (99% of the time, a wild Ghost Orchid plant dies in captivity anyway…). There is one exception—a public boardwalk through the Corkscrew where thousands of visitors have been able to view the orchid from a safe distance. 

Part of its mystery is in its appearance. The plant has no leaves — only roots — and when it blooms, the flower seems to float, glowing white in mid-air. As a night-fragrant orchid, people wondered what kind of creature might be its pollinator. Now you can see video of the giant sphinx moth – the only one known to have a long enough proboscis to reach the nectar. (But the giant swallowtail butterfly may be a secondary pollinator.)

You can see and purchase some wonderful photographs of the ghost orchid and other rare orchids captured by Richard and Galina Leighton of Leighton Photography and Imaging at Florida Nature Photography.com. One caption explains, “Not particularly hard to find once you know how to find them, they can be as invisible as ghosts to most people…I’m up to 86 ghost orchids in various locations.”

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