ghost orchid

Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis)

Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website

Classification:
  Kingdom:   Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom:   Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
      Superdivision:   Spermatophyta - Seed plants
        Division:   Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
          Class:   Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
            Subclass:   Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
              Order:   Orchidales - Orchid order
                Family:   Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
                  Subfamily:   Epidendroideae -
                    Tribe:   Epidendreae - Cattleya tribe
                      Subtribe:   Laeliinae - Laelias and related.


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis)
Description:
Synonyms: Epidendrum tampense Lindley 1847; Epidendrum porphyrospilum Rchb.f 1877;

Summary: This is a rather conspicuous epiphytic plant with pseudobulbs typically an inch or less in diameter supporting one (sometimes two) slender, grass-like leaves six to twelve inches long. Roots are slender and white when dry, and can run several feet up and down the branch where the plant grows. Flower stems emerge from within the leaf axil, to bear a raceme or panicle of attractive flowers, typically fragrant in the hours around noon. The flowers are 1 to 1.5 inches across, with green sepals and petals suffused with varying amounts of red, a tri-lobed lip with two lobes on either side of the column and the third lobe fan-shaped and typically blotched with purple.

Common Name: Florida Butterfly Orchid

Habitat: Hammocks and swamps from central Florida south, most typically found on live oak trees, but can grow on cypress, pop-ash, pond-apple, palm and pine trees.

Flowering season: May through August (peaking in June)

Images:
 
Encyclia tampensis (Florida Butterfly Orchid) - large plant.
Encyclia tampensis (Florida Butterfly Orchid) - large plant.
Encyclia tampensis (Florida Butterfly Orchid) - large plant closeup.
Encyclia tampensis (Florida Butterfly Orchid) - large plant closeup.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - colony.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - colony.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - backlit spikes.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - backlit spikes.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flowers with heart-shaped blotch.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flowers with heart-shaped blotch.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - candy striped flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - candy striped flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - cascading flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - cascading flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flower closeup.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - flower closeup.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - backlit flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - backlit flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - bronze-colored flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - bronze-colored flowers.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - cascading spike.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - cascading spike.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) flower close-up.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) flower close-up.
Encyclia tampensis fma albolabia
Encyclia tampensis fma albolabia
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - single flower closeup.
Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) - single flower closeup.

Description:
 

This particular orchid is (thankfully) still not hard to find in the wild. It inhabits many hardwood hammocks and swamps in a line roughly extending from Orlando through Tampa and south. While historically it has been seen in counties well to the north of these areas, it is believed that most of these plants were destroyed by freezes that occurred a few decades earlier. However, it is possible that some plants persisted on in deeper swamps with more protection from temperature extremes and these might eventually recolonize these northern areas, provided that there are places still left for them to grow. For, although it is common in wild places where they inhabit, these wild places are increasingly under threat of destruction for the inevitable "progress" of mankind. I have watched hundreds of acres of forest where these once grew along with Epidendrum magnoliae v. mexicanum be razed to the ground to build yet more condominiums in the Kissimmee, Florida area, and I am sure that this area is not unique in seeing such devastation.

One of the best places to see a bit of the old Florida, with just about every hardwood in sight (and even a few palm trees for good measure) festooned with these orchids is Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, FL. The best time for viewing is the middle of June, although some few plants may remain in flower into July or even August. Seeing entire branches laden end-to-end with thick colonies of plants, their golden-yellow flowers fluttering in the breeze really does evoke the image of flocks of butterflies, hence the common name for this plant. You can't help but wonder if perhaps this was the flower that inspired the early Spanish explorers to name this land Florida - the land of flowers.

Various species of bees are the actual pollinators of this species and not butterflies, and they go to it with vigor. Anyone growing cultivated plants of this species (legally obtained, of course) anywhere in the state of Florida (including northern Florida) would do best to bring this plant indoors while flowering, or they will be met with a number of wilted flowers and growing seedpods within just a few days of when the flowers first opened.

There can be quite a bit of variability in the size, shape, and coloration of these flowers. The tepals can have so much red in them that they appear orange or have no reddish tinge at all, being, instead, a clear chartreuse color. The lip blotch can be various sizes and shapes, from nearly covering the entire midlobe to a brushed "candy-striping" to a delicate inverted heart shape to completely non-existant on a pure white lip (fma. albolabia). Luer mentions even more variations in size, shape, and even fragrance in his text, although I have not personally witnessed the extent of variation he has seen in the wild.

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