June 27, 1997
Last week I had a request for some photos of epiphytic orchids growing in the wild. Although I have slides on file, I remembered that it was blooming time for Encyclia tampensis and I saw this as an opportunity to freshen up the archive and reacquaint myself with this orchid's habitat. I made the fifteen minute drive to the place where two decades ago I could find E. tampensis in abundance, Pinehurst Drive & Forest Hill. I was surprised to find that this piece of property was now an equestrian trail, part of the county park across the street. What I was not prepared for was the near absence of cypress. The land is still wooded, but with melaleuca, not cypress. This Australian import had been used by developers to drain marshes because of its prodigious thirst. Its prolific nature has allowed it to crowd out cypress in many of the traditional habitats. No cypress, no Encyclia.
Although I know that E. tampensis and many orchids actually grow quite well on melaleuca, apparently the tree lacks the mychorriza necessary for seed germination. I saw only one tiny orchid on a melaleuca. After searching the area for a couple hours I was able to find a few remaining cypress and a few Encyclia tampensis. A mere hint of what was twenty-five years ago. These once common orchids have lead an existence along side of man, and now they were not only being threatened by habitat destruction due to development but by habitat takeover as well.
I called Woody Robbins and he agreed to join me on an excursion to the plot of land at State Road 7 and Okeechobee Blvd. to see if there were any orchids left there. Woody recalled seeing decent sized colonies of the Encyclia tampensis there as a teenager. This large parcel of land, maybe 100 acres, is situated at the edge of westward sprawl. The new high school has already taken a chunk out of the northwest corner.
The typical habitat of Encyclia tampensis in these seasonally wet bogs is on low cypess trees in mixed forests. Other trees include pond apple, both native and introduced pine, palmetto and of course, melaleuca. Light is typically filtered but can approach full sun in open areas. Numerous species of tillandsias abound including the curiously twisted Tillandsia balbisiana.
We did not have much difficulty finding Encyclia tampensis in this location. We found several large clumps of the orchid in full bloom, but the majority of plants were small. This was probably due to the freeze eight years earlier. The large plants we did find must have been protected while the small plants represented re-establishing seedling populations. As at Pinehurst Drive, the melaleuca was on the move. The area we were exploring had not yet succumbed to this "green pollution", but it was only a matter of time. Besides, rumor has it that the land is scheduled for development.
The inflorescence may be short and have just a few flowers or a foot or two long and have 20 or more flowers. Except in immature specimens, they are almost always branched. The 1 to 1½" flowers have a sweet, honey-like fragrance from morning to mid-afternoon. Although the orchid is not especially fussy and will grow on oak, buttonwood and pond apple, the preferred host by far is cypress.