Rare orchid flowers for first time in UK at Kew Gardens

A rare and endangered orchid plant species has bloomed in the UK for the first time.

The Florida Ghost Orchid, distinctive for its frog-like shape, could be seen on display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens in London on Thursday.

There were concerns the orchid might not flower because of the cooler British climate, with its usual bloom requiring high humidity and mild temperatures.

The Ghost Orchid was added to Kew’s orchid collection, containing roughly 1,300 different species, after being on display at the Chelsea Flower Show last week.

Alberto Trinco, botanical horticulturist at Kew Gardens, told the PA news agency: “It’s quite a particular orchid – it has no leaves whatsoever, just roots, and it photosynthesizes from the roots so it’s quite interesting.”

Kew Gardens Florida ghost orchid
Alberto Trinco has closely tended to the Ghost Orchid in recent days (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The plant’s seed was collected from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge before being germinated at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

After it received clearance to be exported, an orchid specialist flew with the orchid on her lap in a clear storage box on a commercial flight from Chicago to Heathrow.

It is now housed in a terrarium, a small container, to ensure humidity and temperature remain constant throughout the day.

Mr Trinco added: “For me, it’s absolutely incredible. To see it at Kew, it’s remarkable because it’s a very rare plant, even in cultivation.

“Usually plants that travel up high get quite stressed, so it’s really a success all-round from everybody to now have the plant flowering.”

Mr Trinco admitted he was quite nervous about whether the Ghost Orchid would indeed bloom.

Kew Gardens Florida ghost orchid
The public will be able to see the orchid on display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew for the next few days (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He added: “It arrived from Chelsea to Kew on Sunday and [on] Tuesday I put it inside the terrarium.

“Since then I’ve been awake at night thinking ‘What if anything gets in or it gets too hot?’, so it’s a bit of a relief.”

Orchids are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment – their disappearance from an area is often seen as an indicator of poor ecosystem health.

Native to the southern American state, the Florida Ghost Orchid is typically pollinated by the sphinx moth but does not flower reliably.

Global population numbers of the Ghost Orchid have largely declined due to habitat destruction and over-collecting.

There are 52 orchid varieties that are native to Britain, all of which flower between April and September.