Animal Conservation

Ghost Orchid May Get Protection Under Endangered Species Act

To prevent the “ghost orchid” from being worshiped to death, federal wildlife officials said Tuesday that the stealthy, rare and beautiful flower could be added to the endangered species list by the end of the year.

“The ghost orchid has suffered a long decline in South Florida and Cuba, in part because of its immense popularity,” said George Gann, executive director of the Institute for Regional Conservation. “Preventing extinction is the lowest conservation bar; our goal must be full recovery.

The rare orchid seems to appear out of nowhere and float through the air next to its host tree, but it’s there all the time. When not in bloom, the orchid has no leaves and grows close to its host tree, its roots camouflaged.

Summer rains and humidity often cause the flower to burst. At the same time, it clings to its host tree with wispy tendrils that cannot be seen from afar, giving the orchid the appearance of a floating ghost.

Rampant poaching of the Ghost Orchid puts it at serious risk and estimates of their numbers in the wild range from 750 to 1,500. Changing weather patterns, loss of wetlands and development encroaching on swamp forests from South Florida have also contributed to the steep decline of an already hard-to-find species.

A number of ghost orchids were likely lost during Hurricane Ian’s assault on south and central Florida last month, though it’s too early to estimate. Powerful hurricanes like Ian have already reduced orchid numbers.

Decision coming soon

The Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency able to grant Endangered Species Act protection to the ghost orchid, already a critically endangered flower. Under federal law, the agency has about three months to file the appeal.

In Florida, ghost orchids can be found in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and other conservation and tribal areas in the counties. of Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee. It is also found in Cuba.

Among the many environmental groups pushing for the ghost orchid to be listed as endangered are the Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

In a recently filed petition, the groups argue that Fish and Wildlife should also designate its critical habitat, which environmental organizations believe is essential to the ghost orchid’s survival and recovery.

Admired around the world

Orchid seekers regularly travel to distant swamps and rainforests in search of new species, which they often name on their own or a spouse or child.

The international theft of rare or newly discovered orchids is not unheard of, as the propagation of a particularly remarkable, new or magnificent flower can be both lucrative and prestigious.

Melissa Abdo, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association in Florida, said she searched for six months before spotting a ghost orchid in the wild as it stood waist-deep in a swamp amid the Everglades. The orchid was wrapped around the trunk of a tree. It captivated her.

“I understand the allure this beautiful, rare plant species has for people, but its popularity comes at a high price. Recent increases in ghost orchid poaching have put the species in grave danger,” Abdo said Tuesday. He deserves nothing less than the full federal protections necessary to keep this species alive and thriving.”

Popular local ghost orchid

The largest ghost orchid ever discovered was discovered in 2007 at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Audubon, Florida, near Naples.

The now famous orchid is still alive and when it blooms, usually between June and October, the flower attracts international attention among the ultra-enthusiastic world of orchid lovers.

“Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary provides the perfect habitat for an unknown number of ghost orchids,” said Renee Wilson, Florida Audubon’s senior communications coordinator. get your feet wet.

Environmental Reporting for WGCU is funded in part by the VoLo Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate global change and impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, improving education and improving health.

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