Naples Botanical Garden a place for orchid lovers | Columnists

Orchid lovers looking to get away from it all this holiday season now have yet another reason to visit Florida. In the southwest corner of the Sunshine State is the city of Naples, a tourist spot known for its countless golf courses and more than 300 sunny days each year. But its 10-year-old botanical garden and precious collection of orchids attract all the attention.

In the 1990s, local philanthropists got together and decided a venue was needed to showcase their abundance of tropical plants. Over the next few years, land was purchased, gardens were designed and extensive landscaping took place. The gates of the Botanical Garden of Naples officially opened in 2009 and today countless visitors roam the 80 hectares of cultivated land.

The garden has amassed a large collection of orchids in just a decade and contains thousands of mature plants, all of which have been donated. Orchids are a mix of genera relying heavily on colorful Vanda hybrids, which thrive in high humidity and warm temperatures. Vandas are mounted or grow in baskets with little or no potting soil and are scattered throughout the garden.

Much of the remaining collection is grown in a production greenhouse and rotated, when in bloom, to an orchid garden just past the visitor center. Additionally, many specimens have been naturalized by permanently tying them to trees or planting them in the ground. The collection is partially maintained by members of the Naples Orchid Society, which is closely associated with the garden.

Florida is home to approximately 50 species of orchids and most are on display throughout the garden. Visitors will find Encyclia cochleata, Epidendrum amphistomum and Vanilla phaeantha as well as whole sections of Encyclia tampensis. The star of the series, however, has no leaves at all and people come from all over the world to see her.

Dendrophlax lindenii, also known as the ghost orchid, is a rare plant by any standard and is found in only a few counties in Florida. Its name refers to the fact that the plant is not easily visible as there are no leaves, just masses of gray roots. A large white flower stretches outward on a long stem that appears to float in the air. The plant is extremely difficult to grow, even for professionals, due to the high humidity requirements.

About three years ago, the garden received its first ghost orchids, which were installed in a marshy area with the help of researchers from the University of Florida. Eighty plants, in all, have been painstakingly stapled to the apple trees in the pond along a winding promenade. The orchids were mounted at deck level on the trees so that they were visible to the public. This site became known as the Ghost Orchid Boardwalk.

Nick Ewy, Collections Manager, said: “A lot of ghost orchids started to grow and attach quickly and we had flowers on the larger plants the first summer.” However, nearly half were lost to Hurricane Irma and initial rodent damage, so additional plants were imported from the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The surviving orchids are now thriving and should produce plenty in the future. “The potential flowering period for this species is from April to September, but ours is the most intense in July and August,” says Ewy.

The Botanical Garden of Naples recently received the prestigious Award for Garden Excellence from the American Public Garden Association. Currently, there is a major expansion underway which includes new greenhouses, gardens and a state-of-the-art laboratory. Orchid enthusiasts are encouraged to see this exciting new botanical garden first-hand. More information online: naplesgarden.org

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