There are almost 100 varieties of wild orchids in Florida, but only one has been the subject of a book and movie — the ghost orchid.
This celebrity of the orchid world attracts visitors every summer to an exquisite preserve, the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, where a specimen blooms reliably in early summer, and sometimes for weeks and weeks thereafter.
This specimen is so prolific it’s called a “super” ghost orchid. Its the largest ghost orchid specimen ever spotted.
Corkscrew’s “Super” Ghost Orchid had its first bloom of the 2023 season on June 27 and is expected to continue blooming for several weeks.
Ghost orchid made famous by book, movie
The ghost orchid was made famous by the 2002 film Adaptation starring Meryl Streep based on the best-selling book Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean.
When the book was published and the movie was made, there was no reliable way for an ordinary orchid lover to spot a ghost orchid in the wild. It required wading into the Fakahatchee swamp in mosquito-infested summer, probably hiring a guide.
Now, orchid fans just have to wait until July or August and visit Corkscrew.
Discovery of the Naples ghost orchid
In 2007, a volunteer spotted a ghost orchid in bloom along the Corkscrew boardwalk, prompting a spike in publicity, visitors and attention.
The drama returned each summer when it bloomed. One year, the blooms disappeared overnight, the victim of hungry insects. In 2014, a second smaller ghost orchid was spotted.
Some years, the ghost orchid has produced more than 40 blooms, and its size earned it the title “super ghost orchid.”
To see the super ghost orchid, visitors have to walk about a mile down the boardwalk (such a beautiful walk!) When it blooms, the sanctuary posts a sign and keeps a telescope there.
Here’s advice from Corkscrew on seeing the ghost orchid: “The “Super” ghost orchid at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is located about 70 feet off the ground on a bald cypress tree roughly 100 feet off the boardwalk. In order to see the blooms, orchid enthusiasts are encouraged to bring a spotting scope or binoculars, and a recommended lens length of 600 mm to get a decent photo.”
During past ghost-orchid blooms, many folks braved the heat for a summer visit. I visited the sanctuary in June and there were no mosquitoes thanks to gambusia (mosquitofish) in the water and only a few deer fly. Carrying plenty of water and prepared to sweat, I thought it was a lovely visit — so don’t be afraid of summer at Corkscrew.
In previous years, the ghost orchid blooms were visible throughout August.
The woman who originally spotted the ghost orchid was looking for owls, according to the Audubon Society. To make sure she could find the orchid again, she left her shoes to mark the spot while she searched for another witness.
Visiting Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Preserve
It’s no coincidence that the ghost orchid chose Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary as its home. Corkscrew is one of the most exquisite parcels of land that has been preserved in Florida is found.
The facility’s signage says its special because the endangered wood stork nests here and because it is the largest piece of ancient bald cypress forest preserved in the world.
But I think it’s special because walking its 2.25 mile boardwalk takes you into a world where at every turn you see scenes so beautiful they could have been arranged by the world’s best floral designer.
Many consider Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary to be Florida’s best boardwalk.
I’ve visited Corkscrew Swamp in summer, and have found it to be a quiet place, where you can hear a rustle in the brush that signals a snake’s movement. On a recent visit, the air was filled with bird calls and butterflies. My companion was an orchid lover who got goosebumps when he spotted the trees lush with airplants, resurrection ferns and birds nest ferns.
- Two great beaches: Clam Pass Park and Tigertail in Marco Island.
- Kayaking or canoeing: Paddle to an archaeological island from the Estero River
- Camping: Koreshan State Historic Park (a really interesting visit on its own)
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.