I first became interested in native Florida orchids ten years ago when one almost hit me on the head. It was right after a summer storm and I was standing under an oak tree in Okeechobee. I suppose the limbs had weakened because when a wind came up, one fell right in front of me. The limb was about the size of my arm, water logged and mostly rotten. It was covered in bromeliads, resurrection fern and what I identified as a butterfly orchid, Encyclia tampensis.
What a great way to sensitize yourself to the wonders of nature in Florida! Ever since then I always look up and into the trees. I also look right into the face of the flower. Not an attractant to butterflies, this epiphyte’s general appearance seems to resemble a kaleidoscope of butterflies. But the petals actually look like little angels or fairies to me. The flower is made up of five sepals that appear green with orange brushed over them and there are three white petals; two on either side of the column that resemble wings if we are still thinking of the fairy analogy, and a broader petal or lip is brushed with purple that resembles a dress. Fairies and angels aside, I’ve always been intrigued by that clever adaptation of orchids to entice their pollinators to come hither. That petal could serve as a landing pad for pollinators and the splash of color and sweet fragrance really does seem to point the way to the ambrosia that awaits them. And if you look at the orchid’s “face” straight on, is there some resemblance to an insect? Maybe, I still see fairies. In my own wanderings I have seen it growing on oaks along streams or river beds and up in the cypress trees. This protected orchid is not as prolific as it once was due in part to habitat loss and cold spells but if you find yourself in a wild area after a storm, watch out, they fall down a lot.