ghost orchid

Jingle Bell Orchid, Needleroot Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus (syn. Harrisella porrecta))

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:   Vandeae - Vandaceous orchids
                      Subtribe:   Angraecinae - Angraecum and relatives (Angraecoids)


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Jingle Bell Orchid, Needleroot Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus (syn. Harrisella porrecta))
Description:
Synonyms: Aeranthes porrecta Rchb.f. 1865; Campylocentrum porrectum (Rchb.f.) Rolfe 1903; Dendrophylax porrectus (Rchb.f.) Carlsward & Whitten 2003; Harrisella amesiana Cogn. 1910; Harrisella uniflora H.Dietr. 1982; Dendrophylax porrectus (Reichenbach f.) Carlsward & Whitten, Int. J. Pl. Sci. 164: 51. 2003

Summary: Very inconspicuous, diminutive leafless epiphyte consisting of a small growing center with radiating slender, gray-green roots. Flowers small, greenish-yellow borne on a slender panicle, fruit an orange-brown capsule which is often the most conspicuous aspect of the plant.

Common Name: Jingle Bell Orchid, Needleroot Orchid

Habitat: Mostly found on smaller branches and twigs of pop-ash, pond apple, bald cypress, and eastern red cedar near swampy areas and in hardwood hammocks. It is also known to colonize neglected citrus groves near these areas.

Flowering season: August through October (peaking in September)

Images:
 
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - large plant in fruit.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - large plant in fruit.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - large plant in fruit.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - large plant in fruit.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - plant in flower on a bald cypress twig
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - plant in flower on a bald cypress twig
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower closeup.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower closeup.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower close-up.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower close-up.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower close-up.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - flower close-up.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - detail from previous image.
Jingle bell orchid (Harrisella porrecta) - detail from previous image.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Harrisella porrecta) seedling.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Harrisella porrecta) seedling.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - robust plant.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - robust plant.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - flower closeup.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - flower closeup.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - extreme flower closeup.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - extreme flower closeup.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - flower with scale reference.
Jingle Bell Orchid (Dendrophylax porrectus) - flower with scale reference.

Description:
 

This species is perhaps amongst the most common species of orchid in Florida, and yet it is one of the hardest to find. It is quite likely that the few central-to-southern Florida counties shown blank in the map above contain these plants as well. It's simply that no one has found them there yet. Crusty, old botanists love to tell of stories where they bring young students during field trips to a tree laden with these plants and ask, "So, where's the orchid?" Most often, the students are stumped and have to be pointed to the plants hiding in plain sight.

This "crusty, old botanist" had just the opposite experience. Ever since being a teenager and reading of this species in Carl Luer's book, The Native Orchids of Florida, I have been on a quest to see this species growing in the wild. In a rare conversation with Dr. Luer himself while on a trip down to south-central Florida, he told me how it used to be very commonly found in old citrus groves, but now has been all but wiped out from these areas as farmers started to employ herbicides to kill off ball mosses and other epiphytes (under the false notion that these did harm to the citrus trees) from their groves. Others indicated to me that the best place to look is along the edges of cypress swamps in south-central Florida and southward. Ever on the prowl, I never succeeded in finding these in the wild. The only time I had ever seen one up until the year 2007 was a cultivated plant that I purchased from a dealer in orchid species. It expired after a few years due to a mite infestation that overwhelmed my orchidarium, but at least I knew what they looked like. Still, in the field, my efforts to find them came up empty. Then one day, I was walking through a pop-ash swamp with my eldest son, Josh. We were admiring the many Encyclia tampensis growing at eye level, when I told him casually, "Be on the lookout for Harrisella porrecta". Since he was unfamiliar with this species, I briefly described it to him, "Oh, it'd probably look like a cluster of roots thinner than an Encylia tampensis and without any leaves or pseudobulbs". About five minutes later, Josh points to a spot up one of the trees and asks "Is that one?" Sure enough, there it sat, a cluster of radiating roots with several orange-brown seed pods dangling from it. As an aside, I had forgotten to mention the dangling seed pods (which give rise to the common name: Jingle Bell Orchid).

Since that time, we have found these to be relatively frequent plants in just about any place where other epiphytic orchids (Encyclia tampensis, Epidendrum magnoliae) and more moisture-loving species of Tillandsia tend to grow. You have to know where to look, often examining several potential host trees in an area. Interestingly enough, once plants are located, re-examining trees that didn't seem to contain any plants will often reveal a few more that you missed the first time around. Josh has proven to be a very sharp pair of eyes, often spotting Harrisella plants twenty feet up in a tree.

These orchids are interesting botanically on several levels. Firstly, they are one of a handful of New World members of the vast Vandaceous alliance (which includes genera such as Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Angraecum, Ascocentrum, etc.), which is much more frequently encountered in Africa and southern Asia. These are more specifically classified along with the Angraecoids, a group that includes the famous "Ghost Orchid" (Dendrophylax lindenii) and Darwin's Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale). Secondly, they are leafless (except for a brief leaf that appears during the seedling stage), having reduced the monopodial plant growth to a tiny nub covered with abbreviated leaf scales. The roots, which perform all the photosynthesis for the plant, are grey- green (becoming green when wet).

The flowering stems also grow out of these tiny plant-nubs, with larger plants growing a surprising number of stems. The flowers themselves are amongst the smallest of the Florida native orchids, barely larger than a pin head. Surprisingly, for a flower so small, they have a strong, sweet night fragrance. The flowers have a small, club-like spur at their rear and a small tooth in the center of the lip. Fruits form soon afterwards, which grow to become quite large for such a small plant (close to 1 cm long). These turn bright orange prior to dehiscing in May-June.

Recent molecular studies carried out by Barbara Carlsward and Mark Whitten at the University of Florida and published in the International Journal of Plant Science on various new world leafless genera suggest that H. porrecta should actually be placed within the genus Dendrophylax. Its closest relative within Dendrophylax molecularly appears to be D. barettiae. The Kew monocot checklist, on the other hand, still lists H. porrecta as Campylocentrum porrectum., undoubtedly confused by reducing this species to synonymy with C. filiforme, which is clearly mistaken. However, it should be noted that this particular study also places C. filiforme within the same subgroup of Dendrophylax as D. barrettiae and H. porrecta.

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