The Ghost Orchid

N-Swamp106_eI came across this picture of the famous (or infamous?) “Ghost Orchid” on the Web this morning in an article from the Naples (Florida) Daily News:

A Ghost Orchid hangs from a dying tree in Fakahatchee Strand on Thursday afternoon. The rare flower is an endangered species made famous by Susan Orlean’s book, “The Orchid Thief.” The flower, which usually blooms for a short time in the summer, is found most commonly in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in Eastern Collier County.

Click here and you’ll see what it looks like when it’s not in bloom — that is, most of the time. Not much. It doesn’t have a stem or leaves, and the roots do all the work of water and nutrient absorption, as well as photosynthesis. Because the roots blend in so well with the tree from which it hangs, the flowers look as though they are suspended in mid-air. It is not a parasite — it is an epiphyte, which means the roots have adapted to obtain moisture, carbon dioxide, and other nutrients from the air. It is pollinated by Florida’s giant sphinx moth, which is the only insect with a proboscis believed to be long enough to do the job (4 to 6 inches long).

(Here are some really cool pictures of a long-spurred orchid being pollinated by a big moth).

In 1994, a plant dealer named John Laroche was arrested for stealing three ghost orchids and a total of 94 orchid specimens. He planned to make “millions” by propagating and selling specimens on the black market. Author Susan Orlean wrote about this story in her book The Orchid Thief, upon which the movie “Adaptation” was loosely based.

The Ghost orchid (Polyradicion lindenii) is also known as the Frog orchid. It was previously known botanically as Polyrrhiza lindenii.