The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is one of the most diverse plant families, yet almost 75% of Florida’s native orchids are listed as threatened or endangered by the state. The butterfly orchid falls under yet another category, commercially exploited, because of heavy collection from the wild. Still one of Florida’s more widespread orchids, it grows on trees in a variety of habitats in over 30 counties throughout the central and southern portion of the state. The species name, tampensis, refers to the Tampa Bay area where the butterfly orchid was discovered. The common name illustrates the resemblance of a densely-flowered spike to a cloud of butterflies.
Many orchid flowers, including this featured species, have a specialized morphology to facilitate pollination. The butterfly orchid appears to have six petals because the three sepals, which protected the flower before blooming, have the same muted green coloration with brown stripes. Of the three true petals, one is uniquely formed into a “lip” and typically splotched with pink, as if sticking out a tongue. When a bee zones in on this sweetly fragrant orchid, it lands on the lip and climbs forward in search of nectar. Collections of pollen or “pollinia” stick onto the bee’s body while it moves under the flower’s central column. Then, the bee flies to the next flower and unwittingly completes pollination. Next fall, look for a stunning display of orchids in the new LaGrippe Family Orchid Garden at Naples Botanical Garden.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published in the News-Press