Orchid enthusiasts who are looking to get away this holiday season now have an additional reason to visit Florida. In the southwest corner of the Sunshine State is the city of Naples, a touristy spot that is known for its countless golf courses and over 300 sunny days each year. But its 10-year-old botanical garden and prized orchid collection are also getting attention.
In the 1990s, local philanthropists decided that a location was needed to showcase their abundance of tropical plants. Over the years, land was purchased, gardens were designed and extensive landscaping took place. In 2009, the doors of the Naples Botanical Garden (www.naplesgarden.org) officially opened, and today, countless visitors walk the 80 acres of cultivated grounds.
The garden has amassed a sizable orchid collection in just a decade, and it contains thousands of mature plants, all of which were donated. The orchids are a mix of genera relying heavily on colorful Vanda hybrids, which thrive in the high humidity and warm weather. The Vandas are mounted or grown in baskets with little or no potting media and are scattered throughout the garden.
Much of the remaining collection is grown in a production greenhouse and rotated, upon blooming, to an orchid garden located just past the visitor center. In addition, numerous specimens have been naturalized by permanently attaching them to trees or planting them in the ground. The collection is partially cared for by members of the Naples Orchid Society, which has a close association with the garden.
Florida is home to about 50 orchid species, and most are displayed throughout the garden. Visitors will find Encyclia cochleata, Epidendrum amphistomum and Vanilla phaeantha as well as entire swaths of Encyclia tampensis. The star of the show, however, has no leaves at all, and people come from all over the world to see it.
Dendrophylax lindenii, also known as the ghost orchid, is a rare plant by any measure and is found in only a few counties in Florida. Its name refers to the plant not being readily visible since there are no leaves, just masses of gray roots. A large white blossom extends outward on a long stem that seems to float in midair. The plant is exceedingly difficult to grow even for professionals due to its high-humidity requirements.
About three years ago, the garden received its first ghost orchids, which were installed in a boggy area with the help of researchers from the University of Florida. Eighty plants were painstakingly stapled to pond apple trees along a meandering boardwalk. This site became known as the Ghost Orchid Boardwalk.
“Many of the ghost orchids started growing and attaching quickly, and we had flowers on the larger plants the first summer,” said Nick Ewy, director of collections. However, nearly half were lost after Hurricane Irma and from initial rodent damage, so additional plants were brought in from the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The surviving orchids are now flourishing and are expected to produce heavily in the future. “The potential blooming period for this species is April through September, but ours is heaviest in July and August,” Ewy said.
In 2017, the Naples Botanical Garden received the American Public Gardens Association’s prestigious Award for Garden Excellence. Currently, there is a big expansion underway that includes new greenhouses, gardens and a state-of-the-art laboratory. Orchid lovers are encouraged to see, firsthand, this exciting botanical garden.