Extremely Rare Flower Considered for Federal Protection After 90% Die Off

by Taylor Cunningham
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Wednesday (Oct. 19) that the ghost orchid may earn federal protection under the Endangered Species Act after learning that more than 90% of the flowers in the wild have died.

The Institute for Regional Conservation, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Center for Biological Diversity asked the service to protect the plant on Jan. 24. Along with a petition, the organizations shared that several factors, including “sea level rise and hurricanes.” are behind the dieoff.

The Institute for Regional Conservation’s executive director, George Gann, believes that adding the ghost orchid to the act will save it from extinction. And he also believes it is the only way to bring the population back to normal.

“Preventing extinction is the lowest conservation bar; our goal must be full recovery,” he wrote in the petition.

The ghost orchid is a perennial that is native to Cuba, the Bahamas, and Florida. The flower gets its name because it resembles a floating ghost. Though many people believe it looks more like a jumping frog.

Hurricane Ian May Have Further Devastated the Rare Flower’s Population

Earlier this year, specialists estimated that only 1,500 remain in Florida. And last month, Melissa Abdo, a regional director of the National Parks Conservation, told ABC News that fewer than 750 mature ghost orchids were alive in the wild before Hurricane Ian.

The delicate plant doesn’t survive storms well, and experts believe that Ian did further damage to the population.

Aside from storms, droughts, illegal poaching, habitat loss, and invasive species are also taking a toll on the flower’s survival. And because it thrives in the Everglades, specialists fear that parkgoers are unintentionally trampling the plant.

To make matters worse, the flower blooms infrequently, which means it has a slow reproduction rate. So it’s unlikely that the plant will rebound without intervention.

“The situation has been dire for some time,” Adobo said.

Over the course of a year, USFWS officials will review the factors that are depleting the orchid population and decide if it qualifies as threatened or endangered.

“The ghost orchid is a testament to how biodiversity can have a monumental impact on our collective spirit and imagination,” shared Elise Bennett, Florida director and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Its rare and cryptic beauty has captivated authors, photographers, and filmmakers alike. I really hope federal officials make haste and protect this gorgeous specter of our swamps before it’s too late.”