The butterfly orchid, Encyclia tampensis (subfamily Epidendroideae), gets its name from the butterfly-like movements of its multiple flowers when they swing in a breeze on their long-stalked inflorescence (Subrahmanyam 2008). The flowers are up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) across, with green-yellowish tepals sometimes tinged with red, and smaller white or yellow petals splotched with purple or red. The butterfly orchid blooms June-August, and sometimes again in September. Various small bees from genera Auglochlora and Halictus pollinate its sweet-smelling flowers.
Epiphytic, E. tampensis is found at low elevations (< 25 meters, or 80 feet) in the southern half of Florida through the Keys, the Bahamas and Cuba, growing especially on southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana), but also on pond apples (Annona glabra), mangroves, bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), pines and palms in tropical hardwood hammocks and along rivers.
Although rare in the wild, Encyclia tampensis is Florida’s most common native orchid species and can be found growing on its own in gardens. It is listed as a regulated plant in need of protection from commercial exploitation by the state of Florida and is protected by law from harvest from the wild. It is recently a target of the “million orchid program” at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden as one of five orchid species for copious laboratory micropropagation in an effort to widely re-establish the species into urban parts of its native distribution (a complement to other existing orchid reintroduction projects focused on natural areas).
(Pfahl; Subrahmanyam 2008; Wikipedia 2013; Gann et al. 2005-14; Florida of North America; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden 2013)
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Peninsular Fl, FL Keys, and Bahama Islands.
Comments: "Very hardy, thriving equally well from dark, humid, swampy forests to high, dry barren trees in full sun. It will withstand a hard freeze" (Luer, 1972).
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Encyclia tampensis
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Encyclia tampensis
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Common in the limited area of FL and Bahamas.
This orchid, like most other orchids native to Florida, came to the brink of extinction when, starting in the 1800s, settlers exploited the seemingly unbounded supply of tropical orchids, removing them in enormous quantities from their habitat as plants to sell in northern states. Urban development and agriculture in Florida subsequently claimed almost all remaining native orchid habitats. The combined result of this history is that a minute fraction of original population sizes of native orchids remain. Orchids are wind pollinated and most require extremely specific conditions for their dust-sized seeds to grow, including precise humidity, light, and connection with fungal symbionts. Although mature plants produce millions of seeds the probability of survival is tremendously slim and small populations cannot survive on their own.
Encyclia tampensis has been targeted by the “Million Orchid Program” at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden as one of five orchid species to reintroduce into oak and mahogany host trees in urban Miami neighborhoods in an “unlimited quantity” to relieve these species from threat of extinction. The program aims to micropropagate thousands of individual orchids at a time in test tubes and recruit community volunteers and K-12 students to plant the seedlings in appropriate locations and follow their progress. The goal is to reestablish enough individuals throughout urban environments that the orchids will be able to reproduce on their own, be resilient to any collection they may be susceptible to, and along with associated education programs make these species and the plight of fragile native Florida habitats visible to city dwellers and visitors. The other orchid species in culture at Fairchild are: Bletia purpurea, Cyrtopodium punctatum, Prosthechea boothiana, and Prosthechea cochleata.
A similar program through the Singapore Botanic Gardens has succeeded in restoration of native orchids in urban Singapore.
Native to Florida and the Bahamas, and another variety in Cuba, E. tampensis is an epiphyte most commonly found growing on southern live oaks but also on pond apples, mangroves, Bald Cypress, pines and palms in tropical hardwood hammocks and along rivers. Vouchered specimens have been cataloged by USF as far north as Levy and Putnam Counties. They are also found in the salty Florida Keys.
The Encyclia tampensis has dark green 7 cm pseudobulbs with narrow foliage up to 16 cm in length and 2 cm in width. Mature plants produce a branched inflorescence in Summer containing several flowers with green to bronze sepals and petals surrounding a white lip with a purple dot. Flowers are alternate, 2.5 cm in diameter and fragrant. They are also called butterfly orchids because of how they sometimes appear in a breeze.
There are some variations in color and markings that exist such as Cuba's encyclia tampense var amesiana and the "alba" or white variety.
Despite being one of Florida's most prolific native orchids, Florida considers E. tampensis a regulated plant needing protection from commercial exploitation. Which means if you want to harvest any for sale from the wild, you must get a permit. If you want to collect more than 2 for personal use from private lands, or any at all from public lands, a permit is required. Certified nurseries are specifically permitted to sell commercially grown protected plants. (Florida Title XXXV Chapter 581.185 Sec 7)
- H. G. Reichenbach, "Orchides", nr. 55, in C. Müller, Ed. Walpers. Annales Botanices Systematicae 6(1861)330, as "EPIDENDRUM TAMPENSE"
- http://culturesheet.org/orchidaceae:encyclia:tampensis Culture Sheet Project
- http://www.orchidspecies.com/enctampense.htm Orchid Species site
- http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=2477 University of South Florida Plant Atlas Online
- page 251 of Leonardo P. Felix and Marcelo Guerra: "Variation in chromosome number and the basic number of subfamily Epidendroideae (Orchidaceae)" Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 163(2010)234-278. The Linnean Society of London. downloaded October 2010 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1095-8339.2010.01059.x/pdf
- Page 86 of Florida Rule 5B-40 regulated plant index.(PDF Alert)
- Florida Dept. of Agriculture Rule 5B-40.003
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