Weird Facts About The Ghost Orchid

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Plant life is amazing, and more amazing are ones that keep you wondering at what they actually are. One such plant is the ghost orchid.

So aptly named, the ghost orchid is one very elusive plant that is rarely seen and is already in the brink of extinction.

This tender and flimsy looking flower has a vaguely spectral appearance, and they seem to hover in the forest due to an illusion created by the leafless plant. Yes, the plant generally hangs out of its host tree, looking like a ghost.

This plant can only be found in the in Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida, where it exists in just three southwestern counties, in very limited population.

It inhabits remote swamp forests and small wooded islands, yet still faces an array of threats from humans, namely poaching, climate change, loss of pollinators and loss of habitat.

ghost orchid at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Florida
The ghost orchid hides its roots in the bark of trees

The ghost orchid enchanting, beautiful, rare, and has a lot of weird facts around it. Let’s explore some of them.

  • The ghost orchid blooms only once in a year…if it feels like making the effort

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) blooms between June and August, typically just once per year for a period of about one or two weeks. Or it might just take the year off. Research has it that as little as 10 percent of this plant blooms each year. Well, it can’t be bothered.

  • Normal plants have leaves, the ghost orchid has scales

The ghost orchid is what’s known as a “leafless” orchid, since its leaves have been reduced to scales and mature plants seem to lack foliage. It also has a reduced stem, which is often hard to see even if you somehow find a ghost orchid in the wild.

  • It is made up of mostly roots, and has no need for soil

In lieu of leaves and a stem, the ghost orchid plant consists mostly of roots, which grow on a tree’s bark without need for the soil below. That’s because the ghost orchid is an epiphyte, a term for plants that grow not in soil, but on trees and other hosts sort of like a parasite.

  • Its roots acts like leaves
roots of a ghost orchid
Its roots are used as leaves

The ghost orchid may not have leaves to speak of, but that doesn’t mean it has given up on photosynthesis. It pushes that duty to the roots to take care of. The roots contain the chlorophyll needed for photosynthesis, rendering leaves unnecessary. The roots also feature small white marks known as pneumatodes, which perform the gas exchange needed for respiration and photosynthesis.

  • The flower smells like apples…in the morning

The ghost orchid has chemicals that are mostly seen in apples, thus making them mimic the smell of apples in the wild. This smell is said to be most intense in the early hours of the morning, between 1 and 6 a.m.

  • It grows in very hazardous areas

In Florida, ghost orchids tend to grow on just three tree species — pop ash, pond apple and bald cypress — but in Cuba they’ve been found growing on at least 18 different host trees. In both countries, however, the ghost orchid’s habitats are said to be undergoing rapid, irreversible change imposed by climate change and other factors. Both regions, for example, are vulnerable to sea-level rise this century given their low elevation, and the severity and frequency of tropical cyclone activity is another concern.

ghost orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, at Florida Panther NWR
The flowers look like they are floating
  • It makes itself difficult to find in the wild

Along with its general rarity and remote, inhospitable habitat, the ghost orchid’s camouflage makes it incredibly hard to find in the wild.

  • They never survive when taken out of the wild

Ghost orchids rarely survive when they are taken out of the wild. People who manage to remove an orchid from its environment are usually disappointed because ghost orchid plants almost always die in captivity.

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