Friday, August 17, 2007

Ladies Tresses--An Orchid Surprise

Ladies' Tresses--Tiny orchid flowers

I spotted this little orchid early this week in a weedy field we've recently started to mow. There were two flower spikes, about 14 inches tall, with no leaves associated. The flowers must be ephemeral, because, when I visited them a day later, they were gone, and another spike had sprung up a few feet away. These are "Ladies' Tresses," the genus Spiranthes. I've learned that there are 32 described species, and that they are a challenge to key. My North American field guides differentiate among them in part on leaf shape, although admitting that often leaves and flowers are not present at the same time. There's one challenge right there.

Spiranthes is certainly good enough for me. It's a pretty name for a lovely plant, and it refers to the spiral arrangement of flowers on the inflorescence.

Ladies' Tresses inflorescence--orchids in a weedy field

4 comments:

nina said...

So fortunate you happened by that day--otherwise maybe never seen. Such a lovely, sweet flower.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Yes, it was especially lucky, as it's not a flower you can spot from a distance. I wonder if I'll ever find its leaves?

Larry said...

I've often found Spiranthes here in Missouri, sometimes as late as November. This is probably Missouri's most common orchid genus.

The odor of the flowers is rich and complex, reminiscent of that of the alien Lilies of the Valley.

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