Heading Out West ….. West Coast Florida, That Is!

Heading Out West ….. West Coast Florida, That Is!

This next post will continue from the last blog and show some of my photos and thoughts as I traveled from the Everglades to Sanibel, then turned north, heading up the west coast.

Dawn the next morning brought one of the most beautiful sunrises of my life. My wife, son and I waited in total darkness until the sun peeked above the Intercoastal Waterway on Sanibel Island’s Lighthouse Point. This is one of those times when waiting for hours is totally worth the wait. Then it was time to try and get a sunset before heading north to hunt for more orchids. Mangroves along the edge of Big Hickory Island in Lee County.Not a bad fishing spot either!

This next series of photographs is of a very small orchid that is next to impossible to find. In fact, it’s one I thought I might never find, but I stumbled into while looking for caves in the Withlacoocheee State Forest near the river of the same name. They are called Copper Ladies’-Tresses (Mesadenus lucayanus) and absolutely tiny! Flowers were measured in millimeters! Good thing I was not only lost in the woods with a GPS with dead batteries, but I was smart enough to have my macro lens with me! Unfortunately I cannot return to this place easily – I’ll have to find them again in the future.
I was walking through the woods when I saw these 3-4 inch golden “sticks” in contrast with the wet and damp dark humus of the forest floor, with the sun going quickly down – with a vague idea my car was in “this direction, I think” – when I saw about eight of these very rare orchids in full bloom. After scouting around to determine the colony’s size, I picked the best ones to photograph, and went to work with the macro lens and ring flash. This setup is perfect for tiny subjects – especially in a non-studio setting.

The flowers of the copper ladies’-tresses have the most unusual metallic sheen, something I’ve never seen in my life. I worked in plant nurseries, and had access to all kinds of exotic plants and orchids from all over the world, and never saw anything like it! The width of these flowers was about 3 millimeters, or 1/4 inch!

Next it was time to hit the coast before heading to Goethe State Forest in Levy County – an orchid-hunting mecca for those of us who are drawn to them. Here are some mangroves on a beautiful sunny day – a common sight all along Florida’s west coast.


I can’t tell you how happy I was to see these in full bloom finally. I have tons of photos of these just after the flowers dry up, and they always seemed to elude me. This is another tiny orchid – the Southern Twayblade Orchid (Listera australis) and I was lucky enough to find both it and a color variation of it – the “forma viridis” – or form lacking all pigment except for green.

I must have found about thirty of these 5 to 6 inch orchids, scattered about a wide area in the forest, and all of them were perfectly in bloom – no dried up flowers that I got used to seeing on past searches. Truly one of the oddest of all flowers in American orchids.

Here is the green form of the southern twayblade….
…and a close-up for a little more detail. I got another good dose of poison ivy for these shots. I didn’t even look to see what I was lying on!
While photographing the southern twayblades, I ran into a HUGE colony of these Wister’s Coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza wisteriana) – another that I’d never seen before. I was having a GREAT trip! I gave up counting after a couple hundred, but I wouldn’t have found them at all, had I not been on my hands and knees crawling through the underbrush photographing the previous species. These beautiful little orchids are parasitic, and feed off of the roots of their host tree. I found these among some pine trees, but the forest was so thick where I found these, there was no way to pinpoint the host. Why do this? It’s very useful when looking for these in other locations. Look for the right conditions, then the right host, then your chances increase of finding more orchids like these again.
That about wraps up the west coast on this trip – next I head over to Florida’s Northeast Atlantic Coast to photograph our migrant seabirds! Don’t forget to bookmark this blog if you like what you see!

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About The Author

Pro photographer, writer, master naturalist, Florida native in the PNW, lucky husband, father of two boys, big hockey and soccer fan, and native orchid hunter.

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