The ghost orchid, perhaps the rarest of the 30 species of orchids in Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Back in January the National Parks Conservation Association, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and The Center for Biological Diversity asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider listing the orchid, and to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the orchid. On Wednesday the agency agreed to consider the rare orchid for listing.
According to the National Park Service, “[T]he ghost orchid’s tangled mass of green roots clings tightly to the trunks of various tree species, including cypress, pond apple, and maple, and is visible year-round. It is distinguished from other species of orchid by the presence of thin white markings dotting its roots. In June and July, at the peak of mosquito season, the ghost orchid blooms. At night, it is pollinated by the sphinx moth, whose long tongue or proboscis allows it to receive a sweet reward of nectar from the flower that is not easily reached by other insects.”
The orchid thrives in humid environments, as it draws moisture from the air. Its unique beauty has led to poaching of the orchid for collectors.
It’s thought that the orchid’s habitat has declined by 90 percent and that there might be 1,000 or fewer individual plants left. Its current range includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and additional conservation and tribal areas in Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties.
“I still remember the first time I saw a ghost orchid. I was waist-deep in a swamp in the heart of the Everglades and spotted one woven around a tree trunk. I had spent six months searching, while researching the plant life throughout the ‘Glades. It was a moment I will never forget,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast regional director for NPCA.
“I understand the pull this beautiful, rare plant species has on people, but its popularity comes at a steep price. Recent upticks in ghost orchid poaching have left the species in serious peril, with fewer than 750 mature orchids left in the wild,” she said. “Climate change, draining of wetlands, and rampant development have also contributed to this sharp decline in an already hard-to-find species. That is why I am relieved that the Fish and Wildlife Service has chosen to consider listing the ghost orchid under the federal Endangered Species Act. It deserves nothing less than the full federal protections necessary to keep this species alive and thriving.”
The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), made popular by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage, is found only in Florida and Cuba.
“The ghost orchid is a testament to how biodiversity can have a monumental impact on our collective spirit and imagination,” said Elise Bennett, deputy Florida director and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Its rare and cryptic beauty has captivated authors, photographers and filmmakers alike. I really hope federal officials make haste and protect this gorgeous specter of our swamps before it’s too late.”
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