ghost orchid

Craighead's Nodding-caps (Triphora craigheadii)

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:   Triphoreae - Triphora tribe.
                      Subtribe:   Triphorinae - Triphora subtribe.


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Craighead's Nodding-caps (Triphora craigheadii)
Description:
Synonyms: none.

Summary: This is one of Florida's rarest orchids, endemic to the state (i.e. found nowhere else in the world), as well as being one of Florida's smallest. Plants often stand less than an inch tall, but can reach 2-3 inches with robust plants. Leaves are heart-shaped with ruffled edges, dark green on top and purple underneath. The small flowers, green with white lips flecked with purple, last but one day.

Common Name: Craighead's Nodding-caps

Habitat: Terrestrial or occasionally lithophytic on forest floor of mesic to xeric live oak/pine/juniper hammocks.

Flowering season: June through July

Images:
 
Triphora craigheadii - late-season plant.
Triphora craigheadii - late-season plant.
Triphora craigheadii - late-season plant, bottom view.
Triphora craigheadii - late-season plant, bottom view.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of flower semi-closeup.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of flower semi-closeup.
Triphora craigheadii with scale reference - photo detail.
Triphora craigheadii with scale reference - photo detail.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of profile photograph.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of profile photograph.
Triphora craigheadii - flower closeup.
Triphora craigheadii - flower closeup.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of flower closeup.
Triphora craigheadii - detail of flower closeup.

Description:
 

Carl Luer first described this species to science in 1965, after three years of attempting to find this plant in bloom. The first year, he observed the plants late in their season long after they had flowered. The second year, he came a few weeks too late and found only fruit/capsules. It was only in his third year of attempting to see this species in bloom that he finally succeeded, having arrived during their brief blooming season of the last week of June and the first of July. Add to this the fact that each flower only opens for the span of one morning before closing by mid-afternoon (with all members of a colony seeming to synchronize their blooming similar to Triphora trianthophora), and you begin to see the extraordinary difficulty of catching this rare beauty in flower. Within six visits to two separate colonies, I have only succeeded in finding them in bloom once. More often than not, it seems that I am there a day too early or a day too late.

Triphora craigheadii is a tiny plant endemic to the state of Florida, meaning that it is presently found nowhere else in the world. When the plants are flowering, the ruffled leaves tinted with purple beneath are still not fully open. It is a number of weeks later that the small leaves, each the size of a small fingernail, finally open fully. Looking at the included picture of the plant with a US penny for scale reference, it is clear that this is truly a liliputian plant, growing in the understory of the understory of the mixed live oak/juniper hammocks nestled within the larger pinelands in west-central Florida. These plants seem to be associated almost exclusively with naturally occurring limestone outcroppings, sometimes growing in the barest pockets of humus accumulated between or on top of these rocks.

The flowers themselves are quite lovely when viewed through a magnifying glass or a camera macro lens. Each 1/2 cm flower, composed of only a few thousands of cells, still exhibits the typical orchid flower structure. The green sepals are nicely contrasted with the white petals and the white lip spotted with pink-purple. When viewed this close up, there is beauty on this microscopic scale to rival even the most magnificent Cattleya flower.

The lightly shaded counties on the range map indicate locations where purported plants of this species have been found, but have not been seen in flower.

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