The ghost orchid is one of the rarest flowers in the world and efforts to study and save the delicate orchid are paying way to a new collaboration among Cuban and American scientists.

Ernesto Mujica, from Cuba's Ministry of Science ECOVIDA Research Center, has come to the swamps of Western Florida all the way from the Western tip of Cuba to study and help save the delicate bloom by working with researchers from the University of Florida and Illinois College in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

The ghost orchid is an endangered orchid in the wild. Cultivating it outside of its native environment has been remarkably difficult although some were able to do this successfully.

The orchid is protected by Florida state laws and is prohibited from being removed from the wild as wild collected plants do not often survive once they are removed from their habitat and die within a year. It is called the ghost orchid because its roots blend so well with the tree making its flower appear to be floating in midair.

The collaboration between the Cuban and American researchers has been touted as a conservation advancement that could emanate from thawing relations between their countries.  

More than 50 years of Cuban trade embargo and travel restrictions have prevented orchid researchers from U.S. and Cuba from sharing data albeit a group of students and researchers from Illinois College were able to visit the Guanahacabibes National Park in Cuba in 2013.

Mujica had to wait two years to get a U.S. visa so he can visit Florida but this month, he collaborated with U.S-based researchers to help document ghost orchid throughout the refuge and showed them long-term monitoring methods that were used to study the flowers in Cuba.

"In the future we hope to compare ghost orchid populations in southwest Florida to those in Cuba as a means of better understanding the species' specific habitat requirements and needs for continued survival," said Lawrence Zettler, from  Illinois College.

Only 11 ghost orchids were previously catalogued at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge but the methods introduced by Mujica  have helped researchers identify and catalog more than 80 new ones.

Zettler said that the collaboration among the researchers show that cooperation between Cuba and the U.S. may help at one rare species that is in danger.

Photo: Mick Fournier / HBI Producers of Fine Orchids 

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