published July 8, 2011

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An Urban Orchid

Encyclia tampensis growing near the VA Hospital.

Earlier this year I was informed that as a veteran, I might be eligible for benefits. I made the drive to the huge West Palm Beach VA Medical Center to register. This complex was opened in 1995 and sprawls over several acres. Although it is at the western border of city limits, where Military Trail and the Bee Line Highway meet, it is within the city. There is still open land west of "the trail" but in recent years, some upscale housing developments have taken over very large tracts. Although I never saw it, if you talk to old timers they will tell you how that area was once all native swamp.

The parking lots at the hospital are so large that they have shuttle buses that run throughout the day so people, especially sick people, don't have to walk to the waiting room. To the north of the edge of the parking area is a fenced off parcel of land that has a slough and a few hundred square yards of mature Cypress trees bordered on its other sides by apartment complexes. Whenever I see such an area I do a visual inspection in the hopes of spotting plants of Encyclia tampensis. This area however was too dense and the trees too far away to make any sightings. I can only imagine what this place looked like before it was cleared for the hospital. Along the sidewalk from the parking lots to the hospital are a few 30-40 foot cypress trees that were left standing. A pair of the trees partially shade one of the little bus stops. I had to do a visual check of these trees too. Imagine my surprise when I spotted E. tampensis. Not just a small plant or two either! I made a note to return in early June when they would be blooming.

Surprisingly there are a good number of large plants of Encyclia tampensis in these parking lot trees. I say surprisingly of course because the trees are there to host them, but also because we have two years of cold winters. These trees are totally exposed to the arctic chillers coming from the northwest in January. On June 3 the plants were still in bloom but flowers were fading. This means they flowered a little early this year. The plants are high up in the trees so difficult to get flower close-ups even with a telephoto. They were glorious in their flowering.

Even while aiming my camera into the trees most people paid me no mind and only one asked what I was taking pictures of. It gives me hope that these orchids have survived the development that surrounds them, but their few numbers reinforce just how fragile their existence is.

Click here for a look at this orchid’s tenuous existence with man that was published on my personal website in 1998.

Greg Allikas - July 7, 2011

By the time flowering occurs in late May or early June, plants of Encyclia tampensis are
well hidden by leafed-out cypress limbs. There are two large clumps of the orchid in
this photo taken near the West Palm Beach VA Hospital.