As orchid enthusiasts we are very fortunate to live in South Florida, 
we have over fifty species of orchids growing naturally in the South 
Florida area.  On almost any day within just a few minutes drive from 
our homes we can observe many species of orchids flowering in the wild.

Just a few years ago we could find thousands of Encyclia tampensis growing at the base of cabbage palmettos in the pinelands in southern Dade County. Bletia purpurea, Spiranthes torta, Habenaria quinqueseta, Habenaria floribunda and Eulophia alta were all very common in the pinelands and along the roadsides. Unfortunately they are almost all gone now. However, we still can find an occasional E. tampensis and B. purpurea in some of the small pockets of pinelands that have survived. In the spring Spiranthes vernalis can be found along the roadsides if they have not been recently mowed. The grassy shoulders of the Turnpike Extension starting in Florida City is a host to thousands of S. vernalis. At times there are so many plants that they appear as white patches. Triphora gentianoides is also found commonly in back yards along with two imports which have become naturalized, Oeceoclades maculata and Zeuxine strateumatica. Oeceoclades maculata was brought to Florida and cultivated at Fairchild Tropical Garden from where it escaped. The reproductive history of this plant was not known at the time, but as we later found out it self-pollinates and can grow from seed to flowering in one year. This is an amazing orchid which can grow in almost any habitat from the deepest shade to full sun. The other import which now can be found in every county of Florida, Z. strateumatica., was first imported into the United States with grass seeds from China.

Although historically nearly 50 species were known to occur in what are now the populated areas of Dade County and Broward County just the few species mentioned above have survived the extensive habitat destruction. However, all of the species that have been known to occur in South Florida still can be found in the Everglades National Park with the exception of Brassia caudata. Until recently it was believed that both B. caudata and Macradenia lutescens were extinct from South Florida due to a combination of illegal collecting and habitat destruction by natural forces. Macradenia lutescens was just discovered in a remote hammock several miles from where it was originally found. Although B. caudata was not seen it may still be discovered in the same area.

In early spring only a short ride south into the Everglades National Park many species of orchids can be seen flowering along the roadside. A sharp eye is necessary to see most of the species since they tend to blend in with the other roadside flowers common at that time of the year. In the wet ditches and along the rocky edges of the pinelands the following species can be observed in flower: Bletia purpurea, Habenaria floribunda ( syn. Habenaria odontopetala), Habenaria quinqueseta, Habenaria repens, Mesadenus polyanthus, Platanthera nivea, Spiranthes praecox, Spiranthes torta, Spiranthes vernalis and Zeuxine strateumatica. In the early fall Spiranthes ovalis becomes the common roadside species.

Growing in cracks and soil pockets in the pinelands can be found: Basiphyllaea corallicola and Ponthieva brittoniae. Both of these species are found in large colonies but few colonies have been located.

In the hardwood hammocks can be observed the following species growing epiphytically or terrestrially: Anacheilium cochleatum var. triandrum, Beadlea elata, Beloglottis costaricensis, Cranichis muscosa, Eltroplectris calcarata, Encyclia tampensis, Epidendrum anceps, Epidendrum nocturnum, Epidendrum rigidum, Galeandra beyrichii, Govenia utriculata, Ionopsis utricularioides, Liparis elata, Macradenia lutescens, Malaxis spicata, Oeceoclades maculata, Oncidium floridanum (usually growing lithophytically), Pelexia adnata, Platythelys querceticola, Polystachya concreta, Triphora gentianoides, Vanilla mexicana (syn. Vanilla planifolia) and Vanilla phaeantha.

In open grassy wet praries or open depressions in the pinelands the following can be found: Calopogon multiflorus, Calopogon tuberosus, Eulophia alta, Spiranthes odorata, Stenorrhynchus lanceolatus var. lanceolatus and Stenorrhynchus lanceolatus var. luteoalba.

Growing epiphytically on cypress trees in the open cypress country are found: Encyclia tampensis and Cyrtopodium punctatum.

Many of the above epiphytes also grow along the mangrove and buttonwood lined creeks and rivers which penetrate deep inland into South Florida. If some of the creeks and rivers in Seven Palm Lake, Hellís Bay, Whitewater Bay, Lostmanís River and Turner River areas are explored the following orchids can also be discovered: Campylocentrum pachyrrhizum, Epicladium boothiana var. erythronioides (syn. Encyclia boothiana var. erythronioides), Epidendrum difforme (The epithet difforme has been incorrectly applied to the Florida populations. A new name is in press for this species), Harrisella porrecta, Oncidium undulatum (This species was incorrectly identified as Oncidium luridum. Oncidium luridum is a Central American species), Polyrhiza lindenii and Vanilla barbellata.

Many of the orchids in the Everglades National Park can be observed by a relaxing Sunday drive through the park. However, the rarer species can only be found deep into the interior parts of the park.

With a shallow draft boat a very exciting and rewarding excursion can be made from the Flamingo Marina to Chokoloskee Island. The trip is approximately 100 miles one way through some of the most unique and beautiful country in the world. The ride can be made from Flamingo to Chokoloskee and back in one day but, it would be best to stay overnight in Chokoloskee. The motel at the marina is excellent as is the Oyster House in Everglades City for dinner.

The trip is best made at a slow pace in order to fully enjoy the orchids and animal life. An early morning start in the Buttonwood canal which joins Flamingo with Coot Bay will be rewarded by the animal life which can be seen. Along the canal and sometimes overhanging the canal can be seen hundreds of Encyclia tampensis in flower during the summer. Oncidium undulatum , Epicladium boothianum var. erythronioides, Epidendrum difforme, Polystachya concreta and Vanilla barbellata can be found abundantly along the east side of the canal growing epiphytically in the mangroves and buttonwoods. These same species can be found along the rest of the Wilderness Waterway. The mangroves along the Shark River, Harney River, Broad River and the many narrow creeks joining the large bays are especially productive to observe orchids. Short trips off the Wilderness Waterway into Hellís Bay, Robertís River and North River can be very interesting. My favorite trip is from Shark River into Tarpon Bay, through Avocado Creek past Canepatch into either Squawk Creek or Rookery Branch. These creeks are so far inland that they become fresh water and many more species of orchids and bromeliads are found.

It is extremely important to remember that collecting of any plants is strictly prohibited by law and can result in stiff penalties and confiscation of property. It must be emphasized that by only observing the orchids in their natural habitat they will be there for us and for future generations to enjoy every year. Although the water levels have changed in South Florida due to mismanagement of resources and greed the orchids are adapting and their numbers are increasing and will continue to do so if they are not collected.

Several orchids previously believed to be rare and endangered or even extinct have been observed to be abundant and common. Exploring the rivers and creeks by boat can be very rewarding not only for observing orchids but for the animal life. During a normal day of exploring for orchids eagles, ospreys, and many other birds can be observed along with alligators, porpoises, manatees, huge rays and turtles. In addition the sea trout, snook and redfish are not only fun to catch but great to eat!

Donovan released this trout

Permit, caught and released

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Variation in Encyclia tampensis
Big Cypress National Preserve