Ghost orchid, a plant with a pivotal role in the non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean and later the movie Adaptation, based on the book. The orchid also inspired by D. K. Christi to write the fictional novel ghost orchid.
The ghost orchid is native to Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas and is also known as the palm Polly and white frog orchid. It was seen for the first time in 1844 in Cuba by the Belgian plant collector Jean Jules Linden. While it was much later, it is unknown when it was discovered in the Everglades.
Among monocots, the ghost orchid is exceptional in that it consists of a greatly reduced stem and the leaves have been reduced to scales. The bulk of a mature plant consists of flat, cord-like green roots.
The ghost orchid is endangered in the wild and is protected under Florida law. While some orchidists have succeeded in raising seedlings that have been removed from the wild, most have failed. Typically, they die within a year. They grow on the central trunk or large main branches of living trees and prefer the pond-apple trees. Occasionally, they will grow on pop-ash trees. You will see them at about eye-level or possibility a few feet higher. It is estimated from the University of Florida Extension that there are only about 2,000 ghost orchids growing in the wild. Some data suggest that there may be significantly more.
A ghost orchid will bloom between June and August, producing one to ten fragrant flowers that open one at a time. The flower is always white and 3 to 4 cm wide and 7 to 9 cm long. Their most intense fragrance comes in the early morning and resembles an apple. The roots camouflage themselves on a tree and the flowers may seem like it is floating in mid-air, hence its name “ghost orchid”.
Orchidists who have been successful with raising seedlings from the wild, have them in a terrarium-like environment mounted bare root on a decay resistant, untreated wood stock. The wood is then laid horizontally on top of a bed of living sphagnum moss, as the plants require high humidity and stagnant air. Until the plant is at least 10 inches across, it should not be allowed to cross-pollinate. Smaller plants are without sufficient biomass will transfer all of their stored reserves making a very large seed pod. This causes the plant to behave much like an annual and will die after the seed is set.
High levels of dissolved salts in the water will result in the roots dying off from the tips. The tips of the roots will yellow and die from too much-chlorinated tap water. Healthy plants will have a vigorous lime green root tips when they are in the active state of growth. The roots will grow continuously if they receive bright light, regular fertilization, and water. In late fall or early winter, there is a short resting period.
While climate change and pollinator loss are two of the threats to the plants, poachers are by far the biggest threat.