Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spiranthes Orchid Time

I used to think of orchids as being rather rare and requiring an almost climate controlled environment. Although many do require specialized habitats, most species have proven to be quite hardy and capable of enduring extreme conditions. There have been 14 orchid species identified at Blue Jay Barrens. My favorite genus, Spiranthes, is represented by five species. Late summer and fall is a prime blooming time for these species and I’m always anxious to find the first flower spikes. Pictured is Slender Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes lacera.

It takes a keen eye to spot a Spiranthes flower stalk hidden in the tall grass. The tiny flowers line up in a spiral around the central shaft of the stalk. Stalks seldom exceed 12 inches in height and are usually much shorter.

Most of the summer flowering Spiranthes are leafless at bloom time. Basal leaves, which have already done their job of recharging the plant’s energy supply, have withered and disappeared. Leaves on the stalk are nothing more than small scales and are barely visible.

The flowers of Spiranthes lacera are quite variable. In the past, this variability has been used to break the plants into two distinct species. The typical flower displays a lime-green throat. The type pictured is known as variety gracilis.

Spiranthes species produce some of the most fragile looking flowers of the plant world. They always remind me of some sugar based confectioners creation. These delicate blooms with pure white throats belong to Little Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes tuberosa.

Spiranthes tuberosa produces a loose spiral spike that often lies over and sprawls in the grass. The bloom is so sparkling white that it’s often impossible to see any details in bright sunlight.

The basal leaf clusters of the presumed Lesser Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes ovalis, have developed flower stalks. It won’t be long before the flowers bloom and I will be able to confirm my identification.


  1. Ahh, I am quite intrigued by orchids, as well! And, the ladies' tresses are my favorites, too! Great job photographing them. I appreciated learning a little more about them. Have a great day! ~karen

  2. Hi Steve...very well named..so beautiful..so delicate..
    Thanks for the info...as usual very nice..with some exceptions.."and you know what they are" !!
    The 2 flower photos near the end are wonderful!!

  3. I received the book. Thank you.
    Hey, our local Spiranthes is blooming, too; it's about done for the season.

  4. Thanks, Karen. There's something about an orchid flower that makes it seem almost unreal.

    My, what keen eyes you have grammie g. I didn't think anyone would notice.

    Hi, Katie. Too bad your Spiranthes are finishing up. Ours should be going for the next couple of months, with the showiest species in October.

  5. I encountered these Spirathes last summer for the first time--on the shores of Lake Michigan, so not too close to home.
    Your photos bring this sweet little orchid back in my memory.

  6. Hi, Nina. Glad I could provide some happy thoughts.

  7. I live in SE Texas out in the country. I found one behind the house growing just outside the fence line. If I had not been neglecting my 'mowing the grass responsibilities' I would never have seen it as it would have been mowed over. Tiny little beauty!

    1. Hi, Cowgirl. That's an exciting find. I'm glad you were able to see this little beauty in person.