Editor’s Note: Mac Stone received NANPA’s 2018 Philip Hyde Conservation Grant for his project, “Old Growth: Ancient Swamps of the South.” In this project he explores three old growth bottomland hardwood swamps (Beidler Forest, Congaree Swamp and Corkscrew Swamp) that are the last vestiges of unique ecosystems that once dominated the American South. He recently gave us an exciting update.
Story by Mac Stone
One of the goals of this project was to photograph the first-ever pollination of a ghost orchid. This is an endangered plant that was made famous by the novel “The Orchid Thief” and the subsequent film, “Adaptation.” Within Corkscrew Swamp in the Everglades, ghost orchids grow in the canopies of the ancient cypress. They probably did this all throughout the Everglades at one point, but most of the trees were cut down except this, perhaps the last remaining tract. In Corkscrew, you still have a large swath of virginal and subtropical swamp where orchids grow high in the boughs of the canopy.
No one had witnessed or photographed the pollination of a ghost orchid. While the giant sphinx moth was believed to be the pollinator, there was no proof. We wanted to find out.
Last year, I managed to make it happen despite some very serious odds. A colleague and friend (Carlton Ward Jr.) endeavored to do the same in the nearby Panther Refuge.
What resulted was a complete upending of long-held beliefs about ghost orchid ecology and for this niche orchid world, a fairly significant scientific discovery. I’ve had to hold onto this secret for a long time, but it’s out now, so I can freely talk about it, which feels great. My colleague, Peter, has a scientific paper that’s pending publication, which will wrap this up nicely.
You can read about it, or watch the film here:
This was just one part, but an important story to tell, for Old Growth. The quest continues on other efforts and images that are proving just as difficult. It feels good to have this one out of the way and picked up by popular media, shining a light on these ecosystems. Thank you NANPA so much for supporting this work!