Cayman Islands Ghost Orchid - Dendrophylax fawcettii Rolfe
Grand Cayman endemic
Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor 2012 p.208, Fig.75, Plate 10
Ironwood Forest maps and pictures
Cayman Islands endemic Ironwood - Chionanthus caymanensis, Family OLEACEAE, is the predominant tree.
Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor 2012 p.595, Fig.221, Plate 58
Ghost Orchid - Dendrophylax fawcettii,
showing flowers with ghostly face and long spur,
Critically Endangered Grand Cayman endemic.
Photo: P. Ann van B. Stafford, April 3, 2008
Ghost Orchid - Dendrophylax
showing stolon - elongated stem,
on the end of which tiny
new roots are growing and from which a new plant is formed.
Photo: P. Ann van B. Stafford, Aug.6, 2013.
Cayman's Ghost Orchid, which has no leaves or pseudobulbs,
grows on bare rocky limestone karst pinnacles (epipetric) or
on other plants (epiphytic).
The fragrant, night-scented flowers attract Sphinx (Hawk) Moths.
The orchid's long spur contains nectar on which the moths feed, using their proboscis (long tongue) like a drinking straw.
The Giant Sphinx Moth - Cocytius antaeus
is the most probable pollinator of Cayman's Ghost Orchid.
Florida Ghost Orchid visited by the Giant Sphinx Moth
Big Cypress National Preserve – watch the video.
Cayman Islands Ghost Orchid Dendrophylax fawcettii listed in
100 Most Threatened Species p.40
Priceless or Worthless?
Priceless or Worthless p.40-41
Text reviewed by the
Orchid Specialist Group
Population size: Unknown
Range: < 1km2 ironwood Forest, George Town, Grand Cayman
Threats: Habitat destruction due to infrastructure development
Action required: Development of legislation that will facilitate the protection of the Ironwood Forest
Known only from Grand Cayman Island, the ethereal ghost orchid (Dendrophylax fawcettii) grows
on the trunks of trees and bare rocky limestone karst
pinnacles. A leafless, spider-like network of
roots for most of
the year, delicate pale cream flowers bloom between April and June,
decorating the moist forest adjoining the wetlands. Sadly, this beautiful
an uncertain future.
The Ironwood Forest,
the last remaining fragment of old-growth forest
in George Town, is bounded
on all sides by the urban development of the
nation’s capital. The forest extends to just 46 acres
of this, while the ghost orchids are confined to an area of
Development of the west
side of Grand Cayman has been voracious in
recent years. In 2008, government plans to construct a bypass through the
forest, and through the portion occupied by the orchids, provoked outcry from
both the public and the owners of the privately-held Ironwood Forest
land. The forest won a stay of execution thanks to the campaign by the
protestors and the bypass plans were shelved. However, this temporary reprieve
will be insufficient to ensure the long term survival of the enchanting ghost
orchid as the Ironwood
Forest continues to
remain without any formal protection. The successful protection of the forest
would also preserve (among numerous other native species) four additional Cayman Islands endemics of cultural as well as natural
significance (Ironwood: Chionanthus
caymanensis, Thatch palm: Coccothrinax proctorii,
the Banana orchid: Myrmecophila
thomsoniana (Cayman’s National Flower),
caymanensis). The latter, a giant
bromeliad nick-named “Old George”, is known naturally only from this area.
What needs to be done?
The Cayman Islands
currently lack the comprehensive conservation legislation necessary to
establish national protected areas, and only five per cent is under the
protection of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.
With appropriate legislation, protection of the Ironwood Forest
would be possible, either by purchase or through establishing management agreements
with the private landowners. This would benefit the landowners by enabling them
to maintain their land in its natural state, as they have done for generations.
All that is required to enable this is the political will.
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