Dendrophylax lindenii –
Wild orchids will only grow in areas of their particular liking. Requiring just the right amount of light, temperature, nutrients and humidity. Even preferring a particular trees bark of a certain angle to nestle itself into. One of the most finicky and rare is the Ghost Orchid. The Ghost Orchid gets its name as its white flowing shape appears to hover in mid air.
It can only found in the Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress Preserve and Panther Refuge in southern Florida. The orchid thrives in areas surrounded by murky waters, mosquitoes, snakes, panthers, bears and alligators. These are not, however, deterrents to avid collectors and profiteers who wish to harvest, reproduce and sell the rare plant. As has been depicted in the book The Orchid Thief and the major motion picture Adaptation.
Are You Fakah’n Crazy
Given the time of year, I know seeing a Ghost Orchid in bloom is highly unlikely, however I can visit its home in the Fakahatchee Strand and participate in a Swamp Walk. The Swamp Walk is for visitors with an affinity for totally undeveloped areas who enjoy strenuous hikes and have no aversion to wading hip deep in a swamp.
Mike, our guide and park biologist, arrives and begins coating himself in sun screen. He is a slight man, mid 50-ish and seems to have boundless energy. I am immediately envious of his enthusiasm for his craft. It’s readily apparent that he loves what he does. He speaks in a rapid fire manner, and unashamedly flys his bio-geek flag, trying to instill his love and knowledge of the strand. He transfers his knowledge in an unassuming way though his vocabulary rivals that of an accomplished college professor.
Slough Ride, Take it Easy
The group of 10 is to carpool out Jane’s Scenic Drive. I jump into the car with Mike and his right hand gal, Becky for the 6 mile drive to the slough (slew). The warm rutted gravel road attracts reptiles like a coffee shop with free wi-fi draws millennial’s. Along the way, we encounter turtles, numerous snakes and a 5′ alligator. Each wildlife incursion requires a vehicle stoppage so that Mike can record what we found, where we found it, what it was doing, who it was talking to and the time of its last meal (approximate).
We reach the end of the drive whereby we are to hike the rest of the way in. Upon exiting the car, Mike begins to apply a second coat of sun screen. Given we have heard reports of bears in the area, and have actually seen numerous snakes and gators, I can understand needing an extra layer of protection. However, I was thinking maybe something from Remington, Winchester or maybe even Smith and/or Wesson but not Panama Jack. But he’s wearing the parks uniform and badge so I defer to his sensibilities.
Hmmm, that’s strange
Upon our first step into the dark cool water, another swamper notices a 2′ gator is bleeding and scrabbling along the bank. To which Mike confesses “Hmmm, I’ve never seen that before”. I’m guessing then that he has probably never seen mom come and render aid and punish those presumed responsible either. I am questioning the validity of that badge and full well expect him to have seen it all before now.
Undeterred, we venture deeper into the swamp, a Pop Ash & Pond Apple slough actually. The water initially is a clearish dark tea color but upon the first steps it roils into a murky mess. Each step holding a mystery, will it be at the same level as last step, will it sink, will my shoe come with me, or will a submerged vine grab on with the intent to pull me down into the abyss. I never know, and never quit wondering.
In the thicket of it
Quickly we spot any number of orchids, bromiliads and air plants. Mike inquisitively looks up and announces that the “Epidendrum rigidum is pushing the envelope of dissacation at 25′ feet and he’s quite the risk taker”. Wait, what?! The crowd chuckles. I didn’t get the joke until I got home. Ha-ha you know how those rigidiums can be marcescent non-resupinates?!!
We come upon a pleasant tall plant that’s kind of cool. Mike identifies it as an Alligator Flag. Two words in that name get my attention. Alligator and Flag. Contrary to Mikes explanation that the presence of Thalia Dealbata doesn’t necessarily indicate that a Reptilia Alligatorinae is present. All the same, I’m not convinced an angry mom is not out lurking and looking for a little swamp country cage match.
This type of dialog continues throughout the course of the 3 hour walk. I am clueless throughout most of the day more concerned about not doing a face plant in the murky waters than concerning myself with he extrapation of a Bulbophyllum pachyrachis
(Rat Tail Orchid). Don’t even get me started on the compressed pseudo bulbs on the prosthechea cochleata (Clam Shell Orchid). I did get some kudos, however, when I spotted the rather obvious expended Apple Snail egg casings on a Strangle Fig for Mike to document.
The tour winds down with the spotting of the non-blooming, leafless Ghost Orchid. It is essentially a light green root disguised as a vine. I am, however, not disappointed to see it without all its glory. I have to remember, it’s the journey and not the destination that I seek. Oh, and what a grand journey it is.
Oh look, a Maneatus Gatorsaurus
Hiking back to the car after the tour, I’m engaging another swamper in a conversation apparently oblivious to what’s around me when I nearly stumble upon a large raptillia. A bit ignorant on how to pass the 7 footer, I look around for instruction. Mike dons another coat of SPF 50 and walks on past without hesitation. What’s in that stuff?
Before departing we engage in a little Q&A debriefing. Noticing that Mike ends every answer with a wry smile, I wonder: is the smile because he is impressed that he remembers all the scientific language or being the skeptic I am wonder if he just makes it all up knowing I wouldn’t know the difference. I suspect however it’s just because he loves the swamp and after experiencing his enthusiasm for it, I have a new found love and appreciation for it too.
After assuring Becky I was merely a travel blogger tracking down SuperGraphics, and not a crazy orchid person she suggests I check out the Orchid display at Fairchild Botanical Gardens.
Fairchild Biotanical Gardens
Across the everglades towards Miami is the home of The American Orchid Society at the Fairchild Botanical Garden. There I find the Orchid Odyssey Exhibit.
While I was not able to see a Ghost Orchid in bloom I was able to dive a bit into the crazy obsession of orchid lovers and admire much of their unique beauty.