What's Blooming Week of July 22? The Butterfly Orchid

Encyclia tampensis (Orchidaceae)
Butterfly Orchid (Orchid family)
Origin: Florida, Bahamas, Cuba

Florida is home to half of the known orchid species found in the United States, with around 100 inventoried to date. Trying to see them all in habitat is a common pursuit among botanists and hobbyists alike, though at times this can be exceedingly difficult, such as with some of the leafless orchids. Some leafless orchids are basically roots attached to trees and found only by trekking through deep mosquito and alligator infested swamps. In the case of Encyclia tampensis, however, anyone in our area can find it without leaving their yard.

Species of Encyclia are found throughout much of the American tropics and subtropics, from near-sea-level to montane forests. In Florida, Encyclia tampensis, named for the Tampa area where it was discovered, is usually seen growing on live oak trees, buttonwoods, and cedars in the southern third of the state. The plant is comprised of few-too-many pseudo bulbs, which may form a mat given time, as well as strappy green leaves up to one foot long, and small white roots running in the furrows of their host’s craggy bark. The flowers are fragrant, very pretty, and held on long inflorescences that bounce in the breeze. The lip is usually whitish with purple spots and the other petals and sepals range from greenish-brown to orange in hue.

Encyclia tampensis is probably the most common native Florida orchid and also the most beautiful and easiest to spot. It is fond of light and usually seen high up in the canopy of the trees, or at ground level if light is available. Tropical Storm Debby recently brought down many tree limbs in the Sarasota area; the combination of the newly open canopies and the butterfly orchid’s blooming season (May-August) is making sightings of the flowers especially easy this year.

Whether you’re out in Myakka State Park, or taking a walk through your own neighborhood, keep an eye out for the small colorful flowers in the oak trees. Or come by The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, where we currently have a display of blooming Encyclia species in the Tropical Conservatory.


Text by David Troxell