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ML Loves the Ghost Orchid: A Rare & Mysterious Plant of the Florida Everglades

The ghost orchid, also known as Dendrophylax lindenii, is a type of orchid that grows on trees in South Florida and Cuba. Its name comes from the fact that it appears to float in the air due to its roots being camouflaged on the tree. The plant has no leaves and consists mainly of a network of roots that perform photosynthesis, absorb nutrients and water, and perform gas exchange for respiration and photosynthesis. Its roots bear white "track marks" that function similarly to stomata, and its outer layer is covered with velamen, which is typical of most epiphytic orchids.

"Ghost Orchid" by USFWS/Southeast is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The ghost orchid is endangered and protected by Florida state laws and international regulations, and it is difficult to cultivate. It produces fragrant flowers between June and August that are white, 3-4 cm wide and 7-9 cm long. The labellum of the flower has two long, lateral tendrils that resemble the hind legs of a jumping frog. The ghost orchid is a unique plant that is a rare sight in the wild.

"Ghost Orchid" (Dendrophylax lindenii) by NC Orchid is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) is found primarily in southwestern Florida, particularly in the Everglades National Park and the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. It prefers to grow on the trunks or large branches of living trees, particularly the pond-apple tree (Annona glabra) or the pop ash tree (Fraxinus caroliniana). It is a protected species, and it is illegal to collect or remove it from the wild.

While it is possible to grow ghost orchids indoors, it is a challenging plant to cultivate. It requires high humidity, good air circulation, and bright, indirect light. The best way to grow ghost orchids at home is to mimic their natural habitat as much as possible. You can do this by placing the plant in a well-draining pot or basket filled with a mixture of sphagnum moss and bark chips, and misting it regularly to maintain humidity. It is important not to overwater ghost orchids, as their roots can rot if they are left in standing water.

In terms of lifespan, ghost orchids can live for several years under the right conditions. However, they are slow-growing plants, and it can take several years for them to reach maturity and produce flowers. In the wild, ghost orchids have been known to live for up to 25 years, but their lifespan in cultivation is often shorter. With proper care, however, it is possible to enjoy these rare and beautiful plants in your home for many years.

By ML Staff. Special thanks to Ziqi Wang for the orchid illustration


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