ghost orchid

Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata)

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:   Cymbidieae - Cymbidium tribe.
                      Subtribe:   Eulophiinae - Eulophia and related.


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata)
Description:
Synonyms: Eulophidium maculatum.

Summary: Plants consist of clusters of relatively small, deep green pseudobulbs giving rise to one to two leaves, deep green on front and lighter green on back, with both sides heavily mottled with deep green. Flower stems arise in late summer and early fall, bearing a number of semi-sequentially opening flowers around 3/4 inch (2 cm) tall. Flowers have green tepals with a contrasting white lip striped and blushed with a rose-pink. At the back of the lip is a small, scrotiform spur. Flowers are rain or ant pollinated and form seed capsules quickly.

Common Name: Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid

Habitat: Moist to semi-dry deciduous forests and hammocks from central Florida southward.

Flowering season: September through December (peaking in October)

Images:
 
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Plant in situ.
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Plant in situ.
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Pseudobulb closeup
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Pseudobulb closeup
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Flowering stem.
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Flowering stem.
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Flower
Monk Orchid, African Spotted Orchid (Oeceoclades maculata) - Flower

Description:
 

It is unclear exactly how this plant arrived in Florida, and many theories are offered. It certainly has its origins in western Africa, but some time made the journey (we assume by natural means) to the tropical Americas, where it has been known from Brazil since at least the mid-1800s, as well as parts of the Caribbean. It had not been found in Florida until the mid-1970s in Miami-Dade County, where it was assumed it was an escapee from Fairchild Tropical Gardens. It may, however, have come from elsewhere, hopping the few miles of ocean between the Caribbean and Florida via its wind-borne seeds. It is fairly certain that the colony in Alachua County spread from cultivated plants set outside during the summertime (I even had a volunteer seedling from my cultivated plant appear in my yard in Tallahassee one year). The vast majority of plants in Florida, however, remain origin unknown.

However it got here, it is turning up with more and more frequency in wooded areas and shadier, landscaped areas from central Florida south. I discovered a plant growing near a restaurant in a north Orlando suburb under an oak tree, and there are rumored plants from an area in southeastern Orlando as well. This is, perhaps, the one orchid I receive more calls about than any other.

This species used to be officially designated as an invasive species in Florida, but this designation has since been dropped. Firstly, it may not even be an escapee, but a species that has naturally followed the same winds that brought flamingos and cattle egrets to Florida, which are both considered naturalized migrants to our area. Secondly, while it may be found in fairly dense colonies in some very shady areas where little else grows, it hardly seems to form a monoculture like other truly invasive weeds do. Because this designation persists in some literature and in the collective conscience of naturalists and natural lands managers, it is likely to be ripped up in many places where it is found. Hence, there is often a chance for interested central and south Floridians to obtain a specimen of this plant to grow themselves. If one has concern about this species spreading and its invasive potential, one simply needs to pinch off the seed pods as they start to form.

They are certainly an attractive orchid, having mottled leaves that resemble a Sansevieria (Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law's Tongue) or a Paphiopedilum (Ladyslipper orchid) or perhaps one of the other jewel orchids. The flowers are not incredibly showy, but could rather be called cute and dainty. Somewhere around 3/4 inch tall (2 cm), they feature green tepals contrasted against a white lip blushed with rose. On the back of the lip is a slightly bilobed nectary which holds a small drop of nectar.

Just as with the method of entry into Florida, there is confusion as to how this plant is pollinated, for nearly every flower sets a seed pod, which certainly accounts for its rapid spread throughout peninsular Florida. It was originally assumed that flowers were self-pollinating, but a study by Gonzalez-Diaz and Ackerman in 1988 showed that rain assists in pollination. I would like to offer another theory gleaned from my own cultivated plant back in Tallahassee. One season, the plant, kept indoors, produced two separate flower spikes, the first of which did not set a single seed pod. By the time the second flowering spike opened, a number of small ants living in one of my other orchid pots had discovered the sweet, sticky exudate produced in abundance by the flowering stem. They crawled all over the stem and into the flowers as well...every flower then set a seed pod, completely in the absence of rain. I am unclear as to how the ants might have effected pollination in the flowers, but it seems fairly likely that they did in this case.

However it is pollinated, in all likelihood by a combination of several factors, this plant is extremely capable of taking root in a number of environments in peninsular Florida, and will thus be encountered with more frequency as a permanent addition (if unwelcome by some) to our orchid flora.

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