Paul Sterry Finds Rare, Fragile Ghost Orchids

Photographer and conservationist Paul Sterry saw a Ghost Orchid in 1986. Thirty-three years later, in 2019, he found another. His remarkable photos reveal a flower that very few people see in real life: the Ghost Orchid, or Epipogium aphyllum. (Even though it shares a common name, it’s different than the famous Florida Ghost Orchid in the bestseller The Orchid Thief.)

Native to a large range throughout Europe and northern Asia, this phantasm of temperate forests is rare and endangered. Ghost Orchids lack chlorophyll, and feed off fungi. They grow underground except for infrequent and unpredictable flowers. Some enthusiasts spend their whole lives looking, but never find one.  The 2019 sighting took place in a remote Romanian forest, where Sterry was able to photograph Ghost Orchids. He’s learned how they need undisturbed, untrampled leaf litter to survive. The very act of searching for them may destroy these rare phantoms, although Sterry and his Romanian botanist guide were careful not to do so.

For more, check out this National Geographic article, “The Rarest Plant in Britain Makes a Ghostly Appearance.”

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