Rare Ghost Orchid Blooms Early at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

© RJ Wiley

A rare ghost orchid bloomed for the fourth consecutive year and months early on an ancient bald cypress tree this weekend at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples.

The bloom was discovered Friday, March 26, 2010, and has one blossom. Audubon is investigating the cause of the early bloom. Since 2007, the elusive flower has bloomed in June or July. Since 2007, area biologists nicknamed this specimen the super ghost, since typically ghost orchids might have between one and three blossoms per year, if they bloom at all.

“We have had an exceptionally cold and wet winter this year, which may be reasons for the early bloom,” said Ed Carlson, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. “But we are still investigating the mystery.”

The ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii) is an extremely rare, epiphytic orchid that grows without leaves on the trunks of trees in a small concentrated area of Southwest Florida.  The plants are usually only visible to intrepid adventurers who must hike through hip deep water in the area’s cypress, pop ash and pond apple sloughs to reach them. The ghost orchid, preyed upon by poachers, was the subject of bestselling author Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the subsequent movie adaptation.

The ghost orchid is one of a number of extraordinary species of plant and wildlife that make Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary their home. The 13,000 acres also protect the largest stand of old growth bald cypress in North America. Because of its unique and rich biodiversity, Corkscrew was officially designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2009, underscoring the need to protect this vital resource from a host of threats, including invasive species and development in sensitive watersheds for which Corkscrew serves as an essential link. Nearly 200 species of birds thrive in the sanctuary, renowned as home to America's largest nesting colonies of Wood Stork, a federally endangered species. The storks nest in majestic 600-year-old bald cypress, reaching heights of 40 meters.

Orchid lovers have a window of about two weeks to spot the ghost orchid bloom.  Visitors to the sanctuary will find spotting scopes for easy close-up views set up along the sanctuary’s boardwalk.  Serious photographers should bring long lenses, as the plant is growing at a height of about 50 feet on the trunk of a bald cypress tree located 150 feet from the boardwalk.

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