You look. It’s there. Then it’s not. Decades go by, and people are prowling the woods, eyes down, hunting for it—crawling, searching, losing hope, and then, all of a sudden, there it is again! In a totally unexpected spot, far from the last sighting, hiding in the dark, barely as tall as your thumb, leafless, probably the rarest plant in Great Britain. It’s known as the ghost orchid, and when it shows up, people go nuts.
I’m talking about plant people.
Let the twenty-somethings hunt for Pokemon characters on their smartphones. This is an older game of hide-and-seek—just as obsessive and every bit as crazy.
How It All Began
It starts back in 1855, when a Mrs. Anderson Smith (I see her in a full skirt, edging her way down a steep dirt trail to a silvery brook in Herefordshire, England) catches sight of a teeny blossom. It’s barely visible, shaded, hemmed in by ferns and nettles. She leans over, plucks it, doesn’t know what it is, and takes it to a local plant lover, who tells her it’sEpipogium aphyllum, a leafless orchid (different, it should be noted, than the Polyrrhiza lindenii featured in The Orchid Thief). Something new in England, it’s placed on exhibit—and then, just as suddenly, disappears. “Rumour says it was accidently destroyed when the room in which it was exhibited was cleared,” the local paper reports.