In the southwest corner of the Sunshine state of Florida is the city of Naples, a touristy spot that is known for its countless golf courses and 300+ sunny days each year. But its ten year old botanical garden and prized orchid collection is getting all the attention.
In the 1990s, local philanthropists got together and decided that a location was needed to showcase their abundance of tropical plants. Over the coming years, land was purchased, gardens were designed, and extensive landscaping took place. The doors of the Naples Botanical Garden officially opened in 2009, 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 temperatures. The Vandas are mounted or grow 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, there are numerous specimens that 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.
Dendrophlax lindenii, also known as the Ghost Orchid, is a rare plant by any measure and is only found in a few counties in Florida. Its name refers to the fact that the plant is not readily visible since there are no leaves, just masses of gray roots. A large white blossom extends outward on a long stem which seems to float in mid-air. The plant is exceedingly difficult to grow even for professionals due to the high humidity requirements.
About three years ago, the garden received its first Ghost Orchids where they were installed in a boggy area with the help of researchers from the University of Florida. Eighty plants, in all, were painstakingly stapled to Pond Apple trees along a meandering boardwalk. The orchids were mounted about deck level on the trees so they were visible to the public. This site became known as the Ghost Orchid Boardwalk.
Nick Ewy, Director of Collections, says “Many of the Ghost orchids started growing and attaching quickly and we had flowers on the larger plants the first summer.” However, nearly half were lost following 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.
The Naples Botanical Garden (www.naplesgarden.org) was recently given the American Public Garden 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, first-hand, this exciting new botanical garden.