ghost orchid

Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

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:   Vanilloideae - Vanilloids
                    Tribe:   Pogonieae - Pogonia Tribe
                      Subtribe:   Pogoniinae - Pogonia Subtribe

Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)
Synonyms: Arethusa verticillata Muhlenberg ex Willdenow, Sp. Pl. 4: 81. 1805.; Odonectis verticillata (Muhlenberg ex Willdenow) Rafinesque, Med. Repos., ser. 2. 5: 357. 1808.; Pogonia verticillata (Muhlenberg ex Willdenow) Nuttall, Gen. N. Amer. Pl. 2: 192. 1818.

Summary: Plant a single stem aboveground, stem purplish, terminating in five to six glossy green leaves. Leaves much smaller at flowering, opening more fully as seed pods mature. Flower, usually solitary, two inches (5 cm) from top to bottom. Sepals greenish-brown. Lip white with green crests and brownish side lobes.

Common Name: Large Whorled Pogonia

Habitat: Terrestrial in moist, deciduous woodlands. Exceedingly rare in Florida.

Flowering season: March through April (peaking in April)

Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata) - plant
Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata) - plant
Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata) - flower
Large Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata) - flower


While this species is reasonably common in states to the north of Florida, within Florida it is perhaps the rarest orchid of all, with no more than a few dozen plants known in all of Florida.

It has been so rare that many were doubting the accuracy of the reports of its existence in Florida until a few decades ago. In fact, Dr. Carlyle Luer, when writing his seminal work, The Native Orchids of Florida, had not had the privilege of seeing this orchid in Florida, having instead to rely on photographs of specimens taken in North Carolina. It has, during the ensuing years, been confirmed again as occurring in Florida. Vouchered specimens exist in two herbaria of plants from both Gadsden County and Washington County. I was given the opportunity of visiting one of these sites recently. Following the instructions given, it still took several hours to discover the plants, my son spotting the first one. A survey of the area indicated about 15 plants, only one in bloom, but at least one and possibly two others looked like they may have had buds on them that had since blasted or been otherwise knocked off (or perhaps they had earlier contained flowers that had not successfully been pollinated).

The above-ground portion of the plant consists of a purplish stem, fading to light green just beneath the whorl of five light green leaves, which is a rather unusual anatomical configuration for an orchid. Seedlings only have their leaves, while a mature plant will have a flower nestled in the center of these. At flowering time, the leaves are just beginning to grow, forming a small "jester's collar" around the flower. In the following weeks after flowering, the leaves will grow to several times their present length. The flower bears a passing resemblance to their cousin, Cleistes bifaria, but the sepals, by contrast, spread widely above and below the flower. The sepals are brown to green, the petals are a lovely lime green, and the lip is white with a green crest running down the center and striated brown on the side lobes. We detected a very slight vanilla-like fragrance from the flower.

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