Stetson University Assistant Professor of Biology Haleigh Ray, PhD, Receives International Recognition at the Chelsea Flower Show in London

The grand entrance of the Chelsea Flower Show.

As part of an orchid team from several universities and botanic gardens in the United States as well as colleagues from the UK, Stetson University’s Haleigh Ray, PhD, traveled to London for the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show.

Haleigh Ray, PhD

Ray has recently been moved into a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Biology.

In late May, Ray, representing Stetson and collaborators from Illinois College, University of Florida, Naples Botanic Garden, Fairchild Botanic Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, Kew Gardens, Grow Tropicals and Smithsonian North American Orchid Conservation Center, set up an education display for orchid conservation- ‘Finding the rare Florida ghost orchid, and more’.

Ray with Chelsea Flower Show team.

The ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) is a leafless, epiphytic orchid that grows on trees, but not parasitic.

A small population of ghost orchids are in South Florida and Cuba. 

Historically, over 90% of the specie population has been lost, mostly to poaching, habitat destruction, and climate change.

This display had three sections of orchids, species from Florida, Great Britain and Cameroon, as well as an educational station on the back.

Ghost Orchid display at the Chelsea Flower Show.

An estimated 150,000 to 175,000 visitors walked through the three separate sections built to look like part of the natural habitat of the orchids from the tropical South Florida environment.

A large tree was placed in the center of the Florida section, which came alive with Spanish moss, bromeliads, and orchids. 

We had epiphytes on the trees and logs, as well as terrestrial orchids in the soil around the base of the tree and near small ponds. 

The Great Britain and Cameroon sections were similar, with all the orchids set up to look as though they were naturally growing in these habitats. 

The ghost orchid was the most iconic species for the display among fourteen other small ghost orchids attached to the main tree in the Florida section, as well as one mature plant that had a flower bud. 

While the flower unfortunately did not open during Chelsea, it was donated to Kew Gardens after the show, and once the flower opened it attracted a large amount of media attention. 

It was the first time this species flowered in the UK. 

Ray shared that the ghost orchid pollinator specimens, recently germinated seedlings from the Million Orchid Project at Fairchild Botanic Garden of Coral Gables, Florida.

She also partnered with USDA in Gainesville to create an exclusive blend of fragrance chemicals to mimic the fragrance of the ghost orchid. 

Ray fully engaged with setting up for the flower show.

Stetson University Innovation Lab had created two 3-D printed ghost orchids, which were then painted to look realistic by a local artist and taken to Chelsea Flower Show. 

One of these was placed into the tree with the live plants, and the other was mounted along with a live ghost orchid and kept on the educational side of the display, giving the appearance of a real flower. 

“It was an amazing trip that I am thrilled to have been able to participate in, said Ray.” 

All the displays were judged in various categories. 

‘Finding the Rare Florida Ghost Orchid, and More” display was awarded a silver medal in the education category, which was very exciting for our first year at Chelsea! The gold medal was awarded to the Orchid Society of Great Britain (OSGB), which had a beautiful display focused specifically on pollination of orchids. 

Ray’s background in orchids started as an undergrad at Illinois College with Larry Zettler, PhD, Hitchcock professor of Biology and continued through graduate school at the University of Florida and at Stetson. 

Zettler was the organizer of the scientific team for the Chelsea Flower Show.

“Our hope for the future is to return to Chelsea and continue our message of native orchid conservation, focusing on orchids of various rotating countries,” added Ray.

David Hill, PhD

David Hill, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences said, “We are very excited about Haleigh’s participation at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show.”

“This opportunity is international recognition for her work on the ghost orchid. This was a wonderful experience that Haleigh can share with her students, and her research should provide many experiential learning opportunities for students moving forward. We are very happy she will be joining us as an Assistant Professor of Biology this fall.”