The ghost orchid (Polyrrhiza lindenii), an epiphytic, grows in the southern region of Florida and areas of Cuba. Each season, between May and September, the plant normally produces only one blossom. The orchids grow within swamp environments, residing on pond apple trees, pop ash, cypress, royal palms and oaks. Quite rare in the wild, only a few hundred plants exist in the wild, according to Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids.
The ghost orchid is considered to be endangered in the wild. Regularly poached to feed the plant industry, the orchids on lower tree branches are easily removed. Unfortunately, a wild-harvested ghost orchid rarely lives and normally perishes within a year. Cultivated varieties that have been specifically bred for the commercial plant market are hardy and offer a long life.
The ghost orchid produces no foliage. It produces grayish-green roots that wrap around the tree and feed the orchid through photosynthesis. The root system of the plant matches the tree it grows upon, which successfully camouflages the orchid. When the rare blossom is produced, it has the appearance of floating in the air like a ghostly presence---this is why the plant is called the "ghost orchid."
Only the giant sphinx moth (Cocytius antaeus) is capable of pollinating the ghost orchid in the wild. It is the only insect with long proboscis that are capable of achieving the task, since the flower's pollen is located deep within the blossom. Two ghost orchids are required for pollination to occur or no seeds will be formed. Hand pollination can occur by utilizing cotton swabs to collect the pollen and inserting it onto the ghost orchid flower.
Seed pods are rarely produced in the wild due to the lack of sphinx moths available for pollination to occur. Once a ghost orchid blossom is pollinated, a seed pod will form. It takes up to one year for the seed pod to reach maturity. It will gradually turn brown and brittle in appearance. Once the pod is one year old it will pop open to disperse the seeds.
The ghost orchid requires high temperatures and high humidity similar to its native tropical swamp environment. Re-creating these requirements in a home setting is virtually impossible. The orchid also enjoys diffused sunlight.When cultivated in captivity, the ghost orchid requires daily misting. Misting helps to remove salt buildup on the plant's root systems. The ghost orchid rarely grows outside a greenhouse situation unless it is grown in a tropical location.