Dr. Michael Kane and Team with the Plant Restoration, Conservation, and Propagation Biotechnology Program are Pioneering Techniques to Reintroduce the Rare Ghost Orchid Back in the Wild

The rare Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, known to naturally occur in only three Florida counties is receiving support through new restoration techniques developed by Dr. Michael Kane and his team.  For four years the team developed procedures to culture plants from seeds in the lab and then successfully acclimatize them to a greenhouse.  The UF/IFAS lab now hosts thousands of mature seedlings, a potentially significant boost to the estimated 2,000 remaining wild orchid population.  The Plant Restoration, Conservation, and Propagation Biotechnology Lab, led by University of Florida professor, Dr. Kane, have also successfully reintroduced orchids into the wild.  In 2015 they planted 80 orchids with a high survival and vigorous regrowth rate.  This year 160 plants were reintroduced.  The Ghost Orchid is a sensitive plant, susceptible to climate change, habitat and pollinator loss, pesticides and poaching. 

Ghost Orchid Facts and Trivia

1. Dendrophylax lindenii : Also known as the palm polly and white frog orchid.

ghost orchid image
The Ghost Orchid

2. “Discovered” by Jean Jules Linden in Cuba in 1844. Later found in Everglades, Florida.

3. The Ghost orchid is referred to as leafless, where the leaves have been reduced to scales.

4. The Ghost Orchid typically flowers for about one to two weeks once a year. The roots attach to trees around eye level in the everglade swamps, nearly indistinguishable from the bark. The white flowers seem to be floating in mid-air, thus the term “Ghost Orchid”.

5. Dr. Kane and former graduate student Hoang Nguyen, who graduated in May, have been working on germinating these seeds that were produced after mechanically pollinating flowers by Larry Richardson from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They currently have thousands of mature seedlings in the UF/IFAS micropropagation lab, compared to an estimated 2,000 growing in Florida in the wild.

  • Further studies include flowering, attachment, mycorrhizal studies, growth and development, as well  as greenhouse and field establishment.
Dr. Kane and Hoang Nguyen in lab
Graduate student Hoang Nguyen and Dr. Michael Kane in the lab

6. There are an estimated 2,000 ghost orchids in the wild in South Florida. However, a recent survey indicates that there may be significantly more plants in the wild than previously estimated.

7. Apart from climate change and pollinator loss, one of the biggest threats to the plants is poachers.

8. The pollen is located deep inside the blossom. Only the giant sphinx moth is able to pollinate ghost orchids due to it's long proboscis. For pollination to occur at its best, two ghost orchids are required although hand pollination can also occur by using cotton swabs to accumulate pollen from one and inserting them onto another flower.

Giant Sphinx Moth
Giant Sphinx Moth

9. With such reduced leaves, photosynthesis occurs primarily in the roots. 

10. The ghost orchid was featured in the book “The Orchid Thief”, by Susan Orlean, and later made into a movie, “Adaptation”.

James Coopman with Ghost orchid
Graduate student Jameson Coopman next to a Ghost Orchid he outplanted. This orchid was the first of the outplanted Ghost Orchids to bloom at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge



Other Florida orchid facts:

  • About half of the United States' native orchid species are considered threatened or endangered.
  • Florida also has the largest amount of orchids compared to any other state
  • There are two other “leafless” species in Florida – The Ribbon Orchid and the Jingle Bell Orchid

More articles about the Ghost Orchid 

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Rare Ghost Orchids Threatened in Florida

UF/IFAS Scientists Preserve the Endangered Ghost Orchid

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