A ghost orchid in bloom. Photo provided by Tony Pernas
By Christine Davis
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in October that it may grant Endangered Species Act protection to the ghost orchid, following a January 2022 petition submitted by the Delray Beach-based Institute for Regional Conservation, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association.
A decision is expected in January.
The rare leafless flower with long delicate petals and a spur of nectar was featured in Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage.
“I still remember the first time I saw a ghost orchid,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., the National Parks Conservation Association’s Sun Coast regional director. “I was waist-deep in a swamp in the heart of the Everglades and spotted one woven around a tree trunk. I had spent six months searching, while researching the plant life throughout the ’Glades. It was a moment I will never forget.
“I understand the pull this beautiful, rare plant species has on people, but its popularity comes at a steep price,” Abdo said. “Recent upticks in ghost orchid poaching have left the species in serious peril, with fewer than 750 mature orchids left in the wild.”
Other factors in the ghost orchid’s population decline include climate change, the draining of wetlands, and development, she said. “The ghost orchid deserves nothing less than the full federal protections necessary to keep this species alive and thriving.”
The ghost orchid population has declined by more than 90% globally. Its range in Florida includes the 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 Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties.
George Gann, executive director at the Institute for Regional Conservation, said he was grateful the government saw the merit in the petition. “Federal protection will help us not only to save this icon of beauty from extinction, but allow for recovery work to commence. Preventing extinction is the lowest conservation bar; our goal must be full recovery.”