I’ll never look at orchids the same way after hunting for the elusive Ghost Orchid with John Kalafarski, a brilliant botanist and all around genius. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is a strip of land between Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) at the North and the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) to the South. It encompasses much of Florida’s most spectacular swamp. More native orchid species grow in this 75,000 acre wilderness than in any other place on the continent. There is an 11 mile park road, but the park is a wilderness and the goal is to preserve its natural character. We hiked the “mud tram” which is a rickety wooden boardwalk made of two boards precariously balanced on 4×4’s driven into the black swamp muck underfoot.
We were seeking the elusive Ghost Orchid which blooms at the start of the summer rainy season. After a long dry winter, this leafless orchid appears briefly in just a few rare locations where the conditions are just right. John, our guide, visits this area often and has a botanist’s eye for the details that lead to the tiny but dramatic wild orchids that flower in the Fakahatchee. John was hoping that we would find the Ghost Orchid on our hike in the middle of April. There had been a brief rain a few days before and the ground was damp, but conditions were not yet perfect and we did not see one despite the Photshoped photo to the left. John wanted to stake out where the orchid was going to bloom so that he could return in a few days’ time to see the bloom, but because the Ghost Orchid does not have any leaves, there is no indicator where it will appear. Botanists have to haunt the territory looking for the blooms. The lucky ones are hiking in tropical rain, swatting mosquitoes as big as the orchids themselves.
The most exciting part was hearing the rumble of an alligator as a jet plane went overhead. John explained that alligators are not afraid of humans, but they don’t understand the sound of the jets overhead and it agitates them. A few steps further and we could smell the alligator who had created a Gator Hole in the black swamp muck. The muck itself was actually clean smelling, just decaying leaves mostly, John dug up a handful for us to sniff. It looked muddy but was actually rather crumbly. We circled around the gator hole so we upwind of the gator and Howard got a pretty good photo.
John explained that the early Spanish visitors called this critter a lizard “legato” so The Lizard is El Legato. Ellygato. Corrupted to ellygotta, then alligator.
Anet’s 27 second walk through Everglades ferns. iframe embed plays in iPad2
Howard’s Video as Anet and John discuss finding time to read and the classic Twilight Zone episode that ends with Burgess Meredith’s glasses being broken.