Rare Ghost Orchid Explodes with 14 Buds in a Second Annual Bloom at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Ghost Orchid Blooming in July 2010. Photo Courtesy of Rod Wiley

A rare ghost orchid has exploded with 14 buds this month, marking its second bloom this year and its fourth consecutive year on an ancient bald cypress tree at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples.

Extremely rare, the ghost orchid’s delicate white flowers are beginning to blossom and should be in flower through July. Earlier in March, 2010, one blossom was discovered, mysteriously early in the season. Since 2007, the elusive flower has bloomed in June or July. 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.

"This number of blooms is unprecedented, and promises to be the best ever blooming of the ghost orchid,” said Ed Carlson, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

The ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii) is an 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. Preyed upon by poachers, the flower 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 to spot the ghost orchid blooming through July.  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.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located at 375 Sanctuary Road West, in Naples, is open to visitors from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. everyday between April 11 and September 30. Between October 1 and April 10, Corkscrew is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission to the boardwalk within one hour of closing is not allowed. The Sanctuary may close when severe weather threatens. For more information on admission fees, call (239) 348-9151.

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