Floridata Article

The (Almost) Ghost Orchids of Clay County

A few weeks ago I went on a combined field trip with our local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and the Florida Native Orchid Society to a site in south Clay County to view some native orchids that were in bloom.

Orange fringed orchid in Clay County, FL.  Photo by 
			Ginny Stibolt.
Orange-fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris)

About 30 orange-fringed orchids (Platanthera ciliaris) made quite a show in the morning light. The pronounced lower petal is deeply divided into a fringe. Each flowering stalk stood about a foot tall and supported 20 to 30 florets. This orchid is a terrestrial orchid, which needs to grow in soil, unlike epiphyte orchids that can obtain needed nutrients and water from the air.

In addition to the orchids, there were many other interesting native species in this meadow/ditch. The whole area was alive with butterflies and bees visiting the orchids and other flowers. Mesmerizing.

What is interesting about this site is that the owners of the property next to this ditch have had to be vigilant and place themselves in front of heavy machinery to prevent the county workers from smoothing the whole area out to make it "neater." Ironically this native meadow takes care of itself without any maintenance and the so-called improvements would have required not only the initial work with the moving of soil and planting of grasses, but then it would have needed mowing several times a year.

So if these homeowners had not spoken up, these gorgeous orchids would have been ghosts: yet another portion of "The Real Florida" wiped out by so-called progress. Our Florida habitat is being eaten at alarming pace by civilization. The Audubon Society estimates that some of our native bird populations have been reduced by 80% since 1967. We gardeners can change that trend one property at a time by defending existing habitat and creating some new habitat by planting more natives.

A raodside ecosystem in Clay County includes orange fringed orchids.  
			Photo by Ginny Stibolt
While there's a fringe of mowed grassy area next to the road, the ditch supports a sustained ecosystem that required no care. This is what more of Florida would look like if we let Mother Nature have her way.

A few of the orchids' neighbors

Other plants along this roadside include: hooded pitcher plants ( Sarracenia minor), horsemint (Monarda punctata), musky mint (Hyptis alata), swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), Barbara's buttons (Marshallia obovata), yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ssp.), pipewort (Eriocaulon ssp.), plus various ferns, rushes and sedges.

 

Musky mint was all around the area.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Musky mint

 

Barbara's buttons and its pollinators.  Aren't these frilly?  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Barbara's buttons

 

Horsemint or spotted beebalm was growing in profusion.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Horsemint or spotted beebalm was growing in profusion.

 

Butterflies danced amongst the orange-fringed orchids.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Butterflies danced amongst the orange-fringed orchids.

 

Horsemint and ferns on the other side of the road. Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
A good stand of horse mint and ferns occupied the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

 

Lessons learned:

1) One person can make a difference in preserving (or restoring) native habitat.
2) Native ecosystems may take a while to settle into their sustainable status, but the wait is definitely worth it.
3) Observing nature is mesmerizing: there's so much learn that it was hard to drag everyone away.

Resources:

- To find a Florida Native Plant Society chapter near you go to www.fnps.org
- For more information on the Florida plants and their distributions within the state: http://www.florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/
- And of course, you can find lots of excellent information right here at Floridata.


Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

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