Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Plains Ladies' Tresses

I think the Disney animators have been sneaking around my prairies because I’m seeing animal characteristics in all the flowers. Here’s a flower saying “I’m an orchid called the Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes magnicamporum. Steve thinks I’m the champion Ladies’ Tresses at Blue Jay Barrens.” Looks like a happy little flower.

This is the showiest of the Ladies’ Tresses at Blue Jay Barrens and as an added bonus it produces a very powerful fragrance to let you know it’s around. I originally found this patch of flowers by following the odor trail. I was about 100 yards downhill from the flowers when I walked into an overpowering almond scent that I just had to investigate.

This is a late bloomer. I usually cruise through the area in early September to determine how many flowers I might expect. By the time the plant is ready to flower, the leaves have all withered away. It’s almost impossible to see this plant until the flowers begin to show a little bit of white.

The plants are easy to find when they are in full bloom. The number of blooming plants varies considerably each year and this has been a moderate year for the Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses. There are about a dozen blooming plants at this site now. The best year had about 30 blooming plants and the poorest year had three.

These plants grow in areas of shallow limestone bedrock. This area was cleared of cedars in the winter of 2004. The foreground area was cleared of all cedars while the area farther back received a 50 percent thinning. I first found the Great Plains Ladies’ Tresses in this area the autumn following clearing. I now find about five blooming plants in the cleared area for every one found in the thinned area.

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