The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday that it will consider granting Endangered Species Act protection to the ghost orchid, a critically endangered flower. Under federal law, the agency now has until January 2023 to make a decision.
Today’s finding comes in response to a petition filed by The Institute for Regional Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Parks Conservation Association. The petition argued that the agency should add the rare native orchid to the endangered species list and designate critical habitat, which is essential to its survival and recovery.
The ghost orchid is at risk of extinction from multiple threats, including poaching, habitat loss and degradation, and the climate crisis. Its population has declined by more than 90% globally, and there were only an estimated 1,500 ghost orchid plants left in Florida in early 2022.
“We are grateful that the Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that our petition has merit and will move forward with the process of review for federal listing,” said George Gann, executive director at The Institute for Regional Conservation. “The ghost orchid has suffered a long decline in southern Florida and Cuba, in part due to its immense popularity, and federal protection will help us not only to save this icon of beauty from extinction but allow for recovery work to commence. Preventing extinction is the lowest conservation bar; our goal must be full recovery.”
“The ghost orchid is a testament to how biodiversity can have a monumental impact on our collective spirit and imagination,” said Elise Bennett, deputy Florida director and attorney at the Center. “Its rare and cryptic beauty has captivated authors, photographers and filmmakers alike. I really hope federal officials make haste and protect this gorgeous specter of our swamps before it’s too late.”
“I still remember the first time I saw a ghost orchid. I was waist-deep in a swamp in the heart of the Everglades and spotted one woven around a tree trunk. I had spent six months searching, while researching the plant life throughout the ‘Glades. It was a moment I will never forget,” said Melissa Abdo, Ph.D., Sun Coast Regional Director for The National Parks Conservation Association. “I understand the pull this beautiful, rare plant species has on people, but its popularity comes at a steep price. Recent upticks in ghost orchid poaching have left the species in serious peril, with fewer than 750 mature orchids left in the wild. Climate change, draining of wetlands, and rampant development have also contributed to this sharp decline in an already hard-to-find species. That is why I am relieved that the Fish and Wildlife Service has chosen to consider listing the ghost orchid under the federal Endangered Species Act. It deserves nothing less than the full federal protections necessary to keep this species alive and thriving.”
The ghost orchid’s current range in Florida includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and additional conservation and tribal areas in Collier, Hendry and possibly Lee counties. It is also found in Cuba. While the full extent of Hurricane Ian’s impact on ghost orchids in Florida and Cuba is not yet known, strong hurricanes have reduced orchid numbers in the recent past.
The conservation organizations will remain closely engaged in the listing process to support the strongest protections under the Endangered Species Act to ensure the ghost orchid recovers.
An emblem of the fragile beauty and rich biodiversity found in Florida, the ghost orchid was featured in Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief and the movie Adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Nicholas Cage.
A private non-profit organization, The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) is dedicated to the protection, restoration, and long-term management of biodiversity on a regional basis, and to the prevention of local extinctions of rare plants, animals and ecosystems. Based in Florida, USA, IRC works on conservation research and action throughout South Florida, the Caribbean and beyond. Its vision is to unite people and nature to restore our world.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.7 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org