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Sarah Palin, Jane Fonda and Those Suffering From Orchidelirium Were Here

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You can join A.A. to quit drinking, but once you get into orchids you can't do anything to kick."

-Avid Guatemalan orchid collector

If you're one of the 30,000 members of the American Orchid Society, you already know about the endangered ghost orchid that has been blooming the last three years in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples Beach, Florida. The protected ghost orchids are named for their eerie white blooms that appear to float unattached in the air.

The rumor mill speculates that Florida (they're also native to Cuba) has more than 2000 of the extremely rare white orchid that Susan Orleans made famous in her book, The Orchid Thief. Unfortunately, most of them are in the Fakahatchee Strand, a 63,000-acre combo of deep swamp, wet woods and tidal marsh. Orleans described the place as "aggressively inhospitable." It's buggy, hot and full of cottonmouth snakes, wild hogs and alligators.

So when one of the lusted-after orchids (only about 10 percent bloom on any given year) makes an appearance in an accessible sanctuary that has a boardwalk and tour guides, you can bet crowds are going to flock. Many savvy Naples hotels have been offering special Ghost Orchid packages.

But the best hotel for orchid fans is undoubtedly the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, the venerable hotel that has been around in one form or another since the 1880's. Owned by the Watkins family for the last 60 years (how often do you find family-owned resorts anymore?), it's the only Naples hotel actually sitting on the famous 10-mile beach, the one the Travel Channel once chose at the world's best.

Not only does this historic resort have a beloved PGA golf course (the only Naples course older than this one doubled as the airport), an amazing tennis program, a world-class spa and loyalists who might have been the ones to coin the term "same time, next year," but it has a unique orchid program, the only one of its kind in the world.

The resort's giant hothouse (sitting right beside the golf course) has more than 5000 orchids, a full-time horticulturist who babysits them all and regular orchid programs including weekly tours, classes on orchid care and world-renowned orchid experts who come in to give lectures. Needless to say, each of resorts 319 rooms and suites features fresh-cut orchids and the gorgeous, open-air lobby and other public spaces are laden with bowls and vases of the unique flower that, at last count, came in 20,000 species, making it the largest flowering-plant family on earth.

The Orchid Program at the Naples Beach Resort will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2011. It began in 1991 with a mere six plants. Orchid tours are given every Tuesday at 10 a.m.

As for the Fakahatchee, it has ten species of orchids that exist nowhere else in the United States: the crooked-spur, the false water spider, the rattail, to name a few.

For updates on the Ghost Orchids (keep your fingers crossed, but the last three year's they've bloomed from March through early August), call the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at 239.348.9151.

Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
is located at 851 Gulf Shore Boulevard North and can be reached at 239-216-2222.