Chasing Ghosts: A Short Documentary Debunks a Long-Held Theory About What Pollinates the Ghost Orchid
What insect has the ability to extend down into the nearly foot-long nectar tube of the ghost orchid? For generations, that question has interested researchers who’ve speculated that the giant sphinx moth, which has a proboscis that often exceeds 10 inches, was one of few species with a tubular tongue that could reach the sticky pollen nestled inside the endangered flower.
Shot during the course of three years, a short documentary by Grizzly Creek Films follows researchers committed to proving this hypothesis. It draws on Charles Darwin’s 160-year-old studies about orchids’ evolution, particularly in relation to one species in Madagascar about which he famously said, “Good heavens. What insect could suck it?” In “Chasing Ghosts,” the team wades into the buggy swamplands of south Florida alongside snakes and alligators to reach a grove of cypress trees, where the white flowers wrap themselves high among the boughs. There they installed cameras to capture the first-ever photograph of the giant sphinx moth probing the ghost orchid.
In total, the mission logged 6,800 camera hours and 52,173 images taken in both Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Fakahatchee Strand and recorded five species capable of pollinating the delicate plant. Surprisingly, the same event that they sought to capture—the giant sphinx moth with its proboscis reaching into the elusive flower—actually debunked researchers’ long-held hypothesis and set them on a new course of study to determine how this plant continues to reproduce.
Watch the full documentary above, and find more of the Montana-based studio’s adventures into Yellowstone and the rugged landscapes of the southern United States on the Grizzly Creek Films’ site and Vimeo. You also can follow its discoveries on Instagram.
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Made of translucent glass, Laura Hart’s brilliant orchids appear to be the paragon of delicacy: the fleshy petals and neon-illuminated columns are in full bloom, representing a fleeting stage of life that’s modeled with an easily breakable substance. The Suffolk-based artist, though, is more concerned with the floral family’s historical resilience and aptitude for survival.
There are 28,000 known species of orchids, which 100-million-year-old fossil records prove were the first to bloom. “Representing a quarter of the world’s flowering plants, there are four times as many orchid species as there are mammals and twice as many birds,” Hart says. In her newest series, Orchis Exotica—which debuted earlier this year as part of Collect 2020 with Vessel Gallery—the central neon light is a nod to orchids’ efforts to attract necessary pollinators to ensure their survival. These successful strategies prove their adaptability, Hart says, a move she connects to Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories.
Manacled by religious dogma of his time, he risked a charge of heresy had he cited another organism equally successful in achieving global population through adaptability. Though there is very little anecdotal record of his personal resolve that humans were the ultimate example of his revelatory theory, there can be no doubt he believed it to be so…The bi-coloured neon centres illuminate the uncanny resemblance between orchid and human reproductive organs; a parallel unlikely missed by the great man himself.
Orchis Exotica is an extension of Hart’s previous flowers that had similarly perfect symmetry but lacked the glowing portions. Despite LED lights being simpler to use, Hart tells Colossal she prefers the traditional mechanisms. “Why neon? Well, I am a lover of the light/art form; very much a rarity in itself these days with the advent of LED neon tube usurping traditional glass,” she writes. Constructed with a combination of 3D design software and traditional technique, each piece is hand fused and slumped to create the half-meter-wide flowers. They undergo multiple firings.
Of course, unlike living orchids, Hart’s sculptures prove their durability by their failure to wilt. Head to Instagram and Facebook to follow her vibrant works, and see which are available for purchase from Vessel Gallery.
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Colorful orchids, identical in size, bloom in UK artist Laura Hart’s studio. From their bilateral symmetry to their splashes of pigment, the glass designer’s perfectly crafted forms illustrate the strange exotic beauty of the plant species. With their soft and fleshy glass petals, Hart’s botanical sculptures appear as fully bloomed flower heads, each of which has a different pattern to reflect the diversity of the species. “My fascination with orchids spans decades and at one point I had nearly seventy in my conservatory,” Hart tells Colossal. “The explosion of color and perfume during the flowering months intoxicate the senses.”
Hart’s route to making glass sculptures has been a convoluted path alongside many creative pursuits. “Beginning with oils and canvas at around the age of twelve, treading the boards at seventeen, video production in my twenties and thirties, heritage building renovation, 3D animation design in my forties, and, at last, the glorious world of glass in my fifties,” she says.
Hart was unexpectedly brought to glass when asked to design a sculpture in steel and glass for a concept artist, and hasn’t looked back since. “I needed to better understand the glass making process in order to achieve the design, so I observed some wonderfully talented glass artists at work. I was utterly captivated and there the obsession began.”
Each flower is about twelve inches (thirty cm) in diamteter, and takes Hart up to ten days to make. She tries to recreate the species as faithfully and authentically as possible, whilst imbuing them with her artistic interpretation.
The artist creates orchid-shaped moulds using 3D modeling and animation software. “The templates for each flower are animated into shapes to simulate glass flow within the kiln to ensure that every flower will slump into the correct shape without stressing the glass in the process,” Hart explains.
Hart then cuts each petal individually and uses glass powders and frits for the first firing. “Veining is then applied from hair fine strands of glass created by pulling thin shards of glass through a flame. There can be as many as six firing processes to achieve the final result. The flowers are then sandblasted to create a satin sheen, and coated with a waterproof spray to bring out the color and prevent finger marks.”
The three-dimensional details in Hart’s glass orchids are added from cutting sheet glass which are applied to the petals and re-fired. “Once all the detail and color is applied to each petal they are fused together to create the flat flower shape. Finally, the flower is placed on the mould and fired to slump position.”
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