Parting the humidity and swatting mosquitoes and other buzzing bothersomes, folks are heading to a swamp in Florida for the rare chance to see a flower so valuable it cannot be priced. The elusive ghost orchid, the bloom that launched a bestseller, box-office stunner and countless pilgrimages through gator infested waters, dangles from the trunk of a 500-year-old bald cypress in Corkskrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples. The big deal here is not how the plant looks (kind of like an old man with close-set eyes and a long Mark Twain moustache), but how rare it is. It takes perfect weather conditions and a prayer to get this sucker to come out.
Should it attach to the right tree, with the right pH level, the correct number of rain drops hit its creamy petals, and a gentle breeze come in at a most exact angle, only one insect can pollinate this prima donna – the Giant Sphinx moth. It’s the only critter with a long enough proboscis (nose) to reach into the flower’s snaking nectar tube for a long drink. No moths, an erratic season, or a plant that’s just not in the mood results in nada, which explains why ghosts don’t frequently appear. Until now, the only way to scope one was to flower power through the living swamp, competing with sharp-toothed reptiles, blood-sucking leeches and other undesirables, and even then, success was not guaranteed. But a discovery last year has changed all that.
A few yards off the reserve’s boardwalk (read planked walkway), a ghost was spotted curiously floating some 40 feet in the air. Normally, they’re only a few feet from the ground. On top of that, where most ghost orchids have between 2 and 3 blooms, this guy had 9, a foliage eclipse of all plants previously recorded. Ed Carlson, the director of the sanctuary, suspects a fallen branch is the reason the plant is now visible. It’s likely been hanging out there for some 50 years. As for it’s elevated location and impressive flowers? A mysterious move by Mother Nature.
Into August, the ghost will lure flower fans and curious travelers. Local hotels are offering discounted room rates and packages to sweeten the deal during what is typically their slow season. “My husband thought I was little crazy going to Florida to see a flower,” says Susan Schumann-Skehan who traveled to the swamp from Connecticut. “But it’s so rare, to actually get to see it was spectacular.”
Visitors from Connecticut, abroad and only a few miles from home, are helping things pick up in the swamp, and now’s the time to join the parade. The flower is expected to stay in full bloom through mid-August. Interested parties should grab the sunscreen and head out now. This preternatural sighting can’t be guaranteed next year.