Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ghost Orchids [Dendrophylax lindenii]

ghost orchids [Dendrophylax lindenii] have a habit of walking off in thebags and baskets of orchid enthusiasts. They can be sources of profit orprivate enjoyment....In the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 20 miles outside of Naples... down aboardwalk that winds through sawgrass marsh and some of the state's lastremaining old-growth cypress forest...
ghost orchids are virtually invisible except when they flower. They do thisinfrequently and irregularly.
They are... difficult to cultivate, and occur naturally only in SouthwestFlorida and Cuba [and the Bahamas ?]... While researching The Orchid Thief,author Susan Orlean spent months tramping the backcountry and didn't see asingle one....a spray of brilliant white on a bald cypress tree 150 feet distant, perhaps60 feet high on the trunk.
The spray turned out to be nine flowers, each as big as a child's palm,with narrow petals and a broad lip from which descended two long taperedtendrils...
A series of frosts in the late 1980s and early 1990s killed many of theCorkscrew orchids. Some survivors were stolen by enthusiasts [poachers !].
... Mike Owen, a botanist from the nearby Fakahatchee Strand... said he'snever seen a ghost orchid taller than 23 feet tall, or with more than threeflowers....the ghost orchid... can be pollinated only by a giant moth that flies onlyat night.
''The survival of the ghost orchid as a species is completely dependent, asfar as we know, on one species of moth, the giant sphinx,'' Owen said.
The giant sphinx moth feeds only on two kinds of flowers, moon flowers andghost orchids, Owen said. 'It has a six-inch wingspan and a six-inchproboscis. It's sometimes dubbed `the flying tongue' . . . and it's flyingaround the swamp at night trying to detect these flowers.''
The flowers emit what Owen... dubbed an ''odoriferous chum slick,''stronger at night, to attract the giant sphinx moth to their nectar. Itsticks its tongue deep inside the flower to reach the nectar, picking up apacket of pollen in process, and then it ``sips up all that high energysugar that fuels its flight to the next flower, like jet fuel.''
Owen has cataloged more than 300 ghost orchids at the Fakahatchee Strand;around 600 are in Big Cypress and about 60 are in the Panther Preserve.Nobody knows how many are growing in the smaller Corkscrew Swamp.
... everything had to go exactly according to plan to cause this particularghost orchid to come into being 30 to 50 years ago (judging by theextensive root system); and at some more recent point a view-obstructingcypress branch had to fall...
[Maryanne Biggar] stared at it for a while. Then -- scared of losing theflower for the forest -- ``I took my shoes off and pointed them in a linewith where I was looking.''...Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary volunteers had trained a telescope on the flowersso that visitors could see them in perfect detail. The number of visitors-- which drops during the sweltering summer months -- has surged....More maddened enthusiasts are on the way, rumored to be flying in from allover. The flowers, up for now, will drop off over the next week."

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