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Corkscrew Sanctuary's 'Super' ghost orchid putting on a show

The rare “super” ghost orchid blooms on Monday, July 8, 2024, at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The first blooms opened in late June. There is a scope on the boardwalk so that visitors can view the flowers. Each blossom typically stays for about 1.5 to 2 weeks, before yellowing and eventually falling off.
Andrea Melendez
/
WGCU
The rare “super” ghost orchid blooms on Monday, July 8, at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The first blooms opened in late June. There is a scope on the boardwalk so that visitors can view the flowers. Each blossom typically stays for about 1.5 to 2 weeks, before yellowing and eventually falling off.

The ghost orchid is in multiple full bloom at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary with it's budding and blossoming action beginning on June 21 and a fourth bud opening on June 29.

Corkscrew's Elusive Super Ghost Orchid blooms for all to enjoy

Once a ghost orchid bud opens into a flower, it usually stays in bloom for about two weeks, yellowing toward the end of the bloom, and eventually fading away. If pollinated, it will produce a seed pod.

The flowers appear to float like an apparition next to its host tree; however, a closer look with binoculars reveals the magician’s secret: bark-colored vines tendering the white flower to its host tree.

WGCU

Far less clear is why the orchid, with only 1,500 or so known to exist in the Western Everglades, is not already on the Endangered Species List. One of the most famous flowers in the world, its population has declined by more than 90 percent globally and by at least 50 percent in Florida.

Poaching, habitat loss, climate change, and stronger and more frequent hurricanes have raised concerns about the species' long-term survival – even the several ghost orchids discovered in Corkscrew Swamp including the world’s largest, which is the one in bloom now.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed its mandatory January 2023 deadline to decide whether to list the ghost orchid as endangered under the Endangered Species Act despite the agency acknowledging it should. Then the wildlife service indicated it would postpone its decision until as late as fall 2026, nearly three years after the legally required deadline.

Without a clear explanation for either delay, The Center for Biological Diversity, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and the National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit in 2023 accusing the federal agency of taking too long to rule on the protected status of the ghost orchid. In May, the wildlife service agreed to decide by June 1, 2025.

“Help is on the way for the hauntingly beautiful ghost orchid, and it can’t come soon enough,” said Elise Bennett, director of the Center for Biological Diversity in Florida. “Endangered species protections would give these enchanting flowers the best shot at weathering climate change, poaching, and other threats they face in the years ahead.”

Few ghost orchids in America are found outside the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, and tribal and conservation areas in Collier, Hendry, and Lee counties. The orchids are also found in Cuba, where they’re critically threatened and few are thought to remain.

Discovered in July 2007, the Corkscrew "Super" ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii)has been in the spotlight each summer since as it continues to produce many flowers year-after-year. And it has been prolific at times. In 2014, it produced over 40 flowers throughout the year.

According to Sanctuary records while ghost orchids typically bloom in June and July, during 2015 this "Super" ghost orchid's earliest blooms were spotted on Jan. 25, 2015, setting a new early-blooming record (the earliest in the year it had bloomed previously was late March of 2010).

In 2017, it was blooming again in November and early December, the latest in the year it was seen to bloom. The last flower for 2017 dropped off on Dec. 8. Records show it has bloomed every month of the year.

There is no telling how much longer the giant ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp will remain in bloom. Managers of the sanctuary suggest buying tickets online at Corkscrew Swamp’s website because they often sell out. Admission is $17 for adults, $6 for kids ages 6 to 14, and free for younger children.

If you do plan to visit Corkscrew to see the "Super" ghost orchid, consider bringing binoculars or a minimum 600mm camera lens, since it is about 50 feet high in an old-growth bald cypress tree and about 100 feet away from the boardwalk.

Whenever possible, skilled naturalist volunteers will put a spotting scope focused on the "Super" ghost orchid for visitors to see it.

Here's a bonus: Learn from the master of the ghost orchid capture in a special workshop with R J Wiley, photographer-in-residence, during the sanctuary's New Moon on the Boardwalk event on August 4 at 6:45 p.m. The free program is included with admission but space is limited. Sign up is available in person at the admissions desk in the Blair Visitor Center beginning that evening at 6:30 p.m.

Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and WGCU's Mike Braun, Amanda Whittamore and Andrea Melendez contributed to this report. WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.