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Reading inspires adventure. After reading “The Orchid Thief” by Susan Orlean earlier this year, visiting Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park became a priority. Over the weekend, I finally stepped foot in Florida’s largest state park and soon realized, I’ll need to make a return visit or two.
Reading Inspires Adventure. This Quest Was About Seeing a Ghost Orchid
“The Orchid Thief’s” non-fiction plot centers around poaching ghost orchids (Dendrophylax lindenii) in Southwest Florida’s swamps. The plant is only known to live in the wetlands of South Florida and Cuba.
To protect these rare plants from poaching, locations of ghost orchids are highly secretive and few people know where to find them. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has a “Super” ghost orchid blooming right now. From what I understand, it’s the largest ever on record and sits 70 feet off the ground in a bald cypress tree about 100 feet from the boardwalk.
Big Cypress National Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand are two other commonly known habitats for the ghost orchid. However, as I learned, you just can’t step foot in the park and expect to see one. I’ll cut to the chase right now and no, I didn’t see one in Fakahatchee. This trip was a reconnaissance mission for a future adventure.
Serenity of the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
What I did find was a lush, active yet serene Florida forest along the half-mile Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. Living and working in the Everglades taught me to appreciate Florida’s biodiversity by exercising patience. To find it, you need to slow down, look, listen, and inhale what’s happening around you.
Fakahatchee Strand is home to world’s largest cypress/royal palm forest and is nicknamed the Amazon of North America. The boardwalk meanders through a mix of old-growth cypress trees, about 200 years old and more than 100 feet tall.
Stop. Look. Listen. Inhale.
Eastern lubber grasshoppers are in peak mating season and once I intentionally looked for them, they were everywhere. A barred owl called out, “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?,” and I swear another bird species responded. Something scurried up in the trees. A squirrel grabbed sticks with its paws, placed them in its mouth, then scurried back into the fold of a palm frond. Not too far from the nest, I observed small mushrooms emerging from damp dead logs. Pond apples bowed tree boughs and water droplets slowly slid off the green (inedible) fruit. Fakahatchee’s scent changes while walking the boardwalk. It’s a combination of earthy soil, decomposing foliage in the water and fresh foliage, almost like fresh-cut grass.
Leaving the boardwalk and heading back to my car, I looked in the canal and looking back was a big, stoic alligator head. Startled, I screamed while jumping back. Yikes! The gator didn’t move and although some people may think it’s fake, he was definitely real.
It was naïve thinking I could stroll into Fakahatchee Strand for the first time and spot a rare ghost orchid. But hey, stranger things have happened. You just never know. Ghost orchids typically bloom in June and July and my summer calendar is booking up. This means, chances are slim I’ll see one of these rare plants this year. *sigh* There’s always next summer.
Video of My Visit to the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
Nuts & Bolts About Visiting Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
27020 Tamiami Trail E
Naples, Fla. 34114
Suggested donation of $3 per person.
Main Entrance to Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve State Park (future blog post!)
137 Coast Line Dr.
Copeland, Fla. 34137
Open 8 a.m. – Sunset
Entrance fee: $3 vehicle (up to 8 people)
$2 pedestrians and bicyclists.
Exact change or pay online.
FloridaHikes.com has a great post about hiking the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk.