ghost orchid

Greenfly Orchid, Bartram's Tree Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae)

Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website

  Kingdom:   Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom:   Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
      Superdivision:   Spermatophyta - Seed plants
        Division:   Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
          Class:   Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
            Subclass:   Liliidae - Lily/related subclass
              Order:   Orchidales - Orchid order
                Family:   Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
                  Subfamily:   Epidendroideae - Epidendroids
                    Tribe:   Epidendreae - Cattleya tribe
                      Subtribe:   Laeliinae - Laelias and related.

Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Greenfly Orchid, Bartram's Tree Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae)
Summary: Semi-conspicuous epiphyte, often found growing typically nestled amongst resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis polypodioides) on various hardwoods. Growths consist of a short cane-like growth with two to eight leaves with proportionately thick roots. Leaves are fleshy, ranging from deep green to lighter green, sometimes turning red-purple in higher light. Inflorescence a raceme bearing three to thirty flowers. Flowers 3/4 inch (1.9cm) in diameter. Sepals and petals similar, green, sometimes with reddish overlay. Lip tri-lobed with two small calli extending to either side of the column. Sides of column have a small purple spot. Flowers become strongly fragrant at night.

Common Name: Greenfly Orchid, Bartram's Tree Orchid

Habitat: Hammocks and swamps from south-central Florida north, most typically found on live oak trees, but can grow on cypress, southern magnolia, beech, maple, and yaupon holly trees.

Flowering season: May through October (peaking in June)

Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. magnoliae) - flower closeup
Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. magnoliae) - flower closeup
Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. magnoliae) - flower closeup
Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. magnoliae) - flower closeup
Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. mexicanum)
Epidendrum magnoliae (ssp. mexicanum)
Greenfly Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae) - plant in situ.
Greenfly Orchid (Epidendrum magnoliae) - plant in situ.


Typically, when you think of epiphytic orchids, visions of steamy rainforest jungles or cloud forests come to mind, branches festooned with mosses, bromeliads and orchids. As you may be aware, a few species of epiphytic orchids have established tenuous toeholds in the swamps of southern Florida, enduring occasional bouts of cooler temperatures as they remain somewhat sheltered from extremes by nearby standing water. Two species of epiphytes, however, are reasonably hardy and can endure sub-freezing temperatures for a few hours. These are Encyclia tampensis and Harrisella porrecta, which both range into central Florida. One epiphyte, however, has proven quite hardy, ranging from south-central Florida, into northern Florida, and into other southeastern states along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana). This species is also known from the Gulf coastal region of Mexico, but is curiously not found in coastal Texas, even though suitable habitat exists there. This epiphyte, of course, is Epidendrum magnoliae, known commonly as the Greenfly Orchid.

Anyone familiar with this orchid may know it by its other long-accepted botanical name, Epidendrum conopseum. As it turns out, Hágsater in 2000 was researching synonyms for this species and discovered that Mühlenberg had published a description in 1813 of Epidendrum magnoliae about a month before R. Brown's description of Epidendrum conopseum, the former name alluding to an affinity for magnolia trees, while the latter means "gnat-like" or "fly-like". According to the rules of botanical nomenclature, prior publication takes precedence, except in rare cases, so E. magnoliae is now the accepted botanical name for this species. Of course, old habits die hard--I still have to check myself from yelling out "conopseum" when I spot one of these plants in the field.

This orchid is relatively frequently encountered in hydric and mesic hammocks, most often on Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) trees amongst the resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis polypodioides). Other common host trees include Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). I have also seen this orchid growing on an American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) and a Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) tree. Since the growths are often the same height as the ferns, spotting these orchids (even when in bloom) is often quite challenging. It is perhaps easiest to see them when it has not rained for a brief period of time. The resurrection fern leaves wilt and appear brownish in color, making it easier to spot the shiny, green grass-like leaves of the orchids growing on the branches. When in bloom, the flowering stems extend somewhat beyond the bed of ferns and orchids, but the bright green flowers can still become lost among the green of the trees, so sharp eyes are always useful when trying to find this orchid.

Plants will often form large matted colonies of many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of growths, their fleshy roots buried in the layer of humus formed from decomposed remains of mosses, bromeliad roots, and fern rhizomes that covers the branches of the trees.

The flowers, a lime-green sometimes tinged with reddish-bronze, are arranged loosely on a raceme that arises from the leaf axil between the almost-succulent, green leaves. These are intensely fragrant at night, suggesting a night-flying moth as its pollinator.

Two forms of this orchid can be found within the state of Florida. The northern variant (ssp. magnoliae), which is the only variant found outside of Florida, has shorter growths that typically have two to four thicker leaves. The flower count of this variant tops out at around fifteen flowers per inflorescence. The southern variant (ssp. mexicanum) is a much more robust form that often bears twice as many leaves and has growths about twice as tall. The flower count is also roughly twice that of the northern form. I have also noticed that the leaves tend to be proportionately thinner, narrower and sharper-ended, sometimes with a slight ribbing. These are rough descriptions, and certainly robust versions of the northern form and less robust versions of the southern form can appear almost identical. There are also sure to be intergrades in areas where both forms are cohabitant.

Flowering usually happens in the late spring, summer, and early autumn months, and typically does not happen during the winter. Individual plants may flower more than once per year, sending up a secondary flower spike as a leafless growth that arises basally from the rhizome.

As interest in botanical and miniature orchids has increased, this plant has increasingly been seen in cultivation and is apparently very easy to grow from seed. It has not been used very often in hybridizing, as it tends to be very dominant in hybrid progeny.

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