Carlton Ward Jr (@carltonward)

July 2019

Chasing Ghosts [5 of 9] > Ghost orchid blooms. Ephemeral white flowers that sometimes emerge during the summer from rare leafless ghost orchids hanging from trees above water in the deepest corners of South Florida swamps. These flowers, and the magical places where they live, have been the focus of my obsession for the past three years. @macstonephoto @peter_houlihan and I joined forces last summer in our converging quests to try to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the Evergaldes — what pollinates the ghost orchid? Look at the bloom on the left and take note of the long the tubelike structure dangling down and right from the back of the flower. This is the nectar spur. It contains the sweet liquid that lures a moth to bury its head into the flower cup and reach its tongue called a proboscis as deep as possible into the spur to reach the most nectar. The ghost orchid nectar spur is long, suggesting that the the moth species that pollinates it would have a proboscis that is equally long. The giant sphinx moth has the longest proboscis is all South Florida moths leading to the widely held theory that it is the sole pollinator of the ghost orchid. But there is no visual evidence to validate this claim. Using camera traps and lots of patience, we set out to try and capture the first-ever photographs of pollination. What species of creatures are we to keep coming back to these orchids summer after summer? This is a question for another time and place. Whether a rare or common species, I know I’m not alone in being enchanted and possibly controlled by these mesmerizing flowers that embody so much history, controversy, mystique and undeniable splendor of Florida at its wildest heart. Please continue to follow this journey as it unfolds in the coming days. #chasingghosts #pathofthepanther @fl_wildcorridor @insidenatgeo @natgeoimagecollection @ilcp_photographers #floridawild #KeepFLWild #ghostorchid