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Florida butterfly orchids thrive in Myakka's old-growth oaks

Old-growth trees provide the loose, well-drained environment required by these petite epiphytes.

Butterfly orchids are considered commercially exploited in Florida and may not be harvested or sold without a permit.  (Miri Hardy)
Butterfly orchids are considered commercially exploited in Florida and may not be harvested or sold without a permit. (Miri Hardy)
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Myakka River State Park provides critical, protected habitat for many native forms of wild life.  And each species, whether plant, animal or microorganism, has a role in Wild Florida's delicate ecosystems. 

One such species, the magnificent Florida butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis), is a slow-growing, perennial epiphyte, which typically blooms in the park between May and July.  

Considered the most diverse plant family, orchids represent about 10% of all flowering plant species.  And, as they thrive in warm and humid climates, Florida is home to at least 106 native orchid species. 

But when railroads first came to Florida in the late 1800s, orchids were among the first natural resource to be exploited.  Millions of orchids were removed from their natural habitats, and sent north as potted plants.  And since, logging, dredging and development has largely reduced or degraded their habitats.  Indeed, today, over half of Florida's orchids are listed as endangered or threatened. 

Most orchids are epiphytes; plants that grow on other plants. As butterfly orchids thrive on old, damp, oak bark, you’ll often spot them in Myakka’s mesic hammocks, where towering old-growth live oaks are abundant.  These mature trees provide a textured, well-drained environment, where orchids germinate in a symbiotic relationship with beneficial fungi.  

Like all air-plants, butterfly orchids merely use their host trees as anchors, thriving high in the canopy, where their light and moisture needs are met. 

The orchids’ honey-like fragrance attracts a variety of bees, which are their primary pollinators.  And their beautiful petite flowers, which flutter in the wind like tiny butterflies, also attract a plethora of human Wild Florida aficionados.

Butterfly orchids grow in almost every county in the state.  But, like other orchids, they've been commercially exploited. Moreover, some areas in Florida have become so urban, that the native habitat and healthy ecosystems these orchids need to survive are scarce.  

To support these significant members of our Wild Florida ecosystems, we can protect the old-growth trees they require to survive.  And, when spotted in the wild, we can leave orchids where we find them, to the benefit of future generations, and our own. 

Friends of Myakka River exists to support Myakka River State Park and the Wild and Scenic Myakka River.  Together, we're protecting and sharing Myakka's Magic, to the benefit of future generations, and our own. Follow us @FriendsofMyakkaRiver ##


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