RE: How to mount the ghost orchid
Lacking anything like the necessary conditions, I won't be trying to grow a ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), but it is fascinating to read about your experiences with this species.
Scott's brave wade through the swamp is more than a little scary to
think about (alligators, snakes,.... leeches, too?), but it yielded
some very nice pictures. They got me to thinking about this problem of
coaxing growth and blooms from a radiating cluster of green orchid roots.
Looking at Scott's pictures and those referenced by the Wikipedia
article on ghost orchids, I thought that every major point of culture
(light, water, temp, humidity, fertilizer, medium/mount) could be approximated, except one--precisely the one Scott wondered about--the medium or mount, which in this case might be required to provide more than a space to park some roots.
It isn't just that we don't have pond apple trees (nevermind hickory)
growing hereabout. When I looked at the in situ trees, themselves,
supporting ferns, mosses, lichens, and ghost roots, several bells rang.
The first was that I had read that orchid seeds need some sort of fungal element for germination. The second was that lichens consist of a symbiotic association of fungi, algae, and/or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and that one of the purposes of these associations is photosynthesis. I wondered whether lichens on the ghost orchid's substrate might also be critical to the orchid's health and fertility.
A little bit of googling turned up an interesting, five page paper by
two scientists at the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences, U.
of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, QLD, "Endophytic Fungi Associated
with Australian Orchids" which discusses fungal associations beyond seed
germination and states on the second page:
"Isolation and perpetuation of the fungal endophyte of a rare orchid
species is crucial to growing the plant under horticultural conditions,
and explains the high failure rates for attempted propagation of
fungal-dependent orchids by fanciers."
(I have removed the http prefix from the URL below so that it wont come
through as a live link, as this seemed to block my first attempt to post.)
While it is true that this is a paper about Australian orchids, it seems
reasonable that it could have implications for orchids elsewhere,
particularly those without what is generally considered a full complement of photosynthetic organs--namely, leaves.
One other bit that turned up in the googling was a reference to a
Pleurothalid of Mexico that is known to be epiphytic on lichen. The
source was Britannica Online to which I don't have a subscription:
(Again, in order to prevent this from being a live link, I have removed
the http and three w prefix from the URL):
IF some component of a southwest Florida swamp lichen is important to
the growing/blooming of a ghost orchid, then it would likely be
necessary to inoculate whatever mount is to be used. These associations
are usually quite specific, but if ANY of a variety of lichens would do,
then some home grown piece of wood that is already host to lichen might
be suitable. For example, if live oak in Florida works, perhaps a lichen-bearing live oak or black oak in northern California would, too.
It would be nice if the solution were to be that easy...though very little about orchid culture is easy the first time around. At the very least it might be worth the experiment.
Thank you for the pictures, Scott; and thanks to all for your detailed