Slender Ladies’ Tresses

Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis

Slender Ladies' Tresses
Slender Ladies’ Tresses

Last summer I reported on Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, which I found growing in bog-like conditions near Glen Alton. Today I found a similar plant growing in a grassy, well-drained field right here in Blacksburg. This one is Green-Lipped Ladies’ Tresses, or Slender Ladies’ Tresses.  As the first part of the name implies, the lip of this tiny white orchid is painted with green. Since the individual flowers are only about 1/4-inch long, it is quite difficult to make out the rest of the details of the tube-shaped flower. However, the distinctive coiled arrangement of the flowers along the central stalk is quite notable, even at a distance. The genus name Spiranthes refers to this unique spiral configuration, as does the common name– ladies’ tresses, which suggests a woman’s hair worn in long curls.

Identifying ladies’ tresses to species is a challenge because there are several species that occur in our area. The differences are subtle.  Adding to the challenge is the fact that the leaves of some ladies’ tresses tend to disappear completely before the blooms appear! In this case, I was able to find two out of twenty or so plants that still had a couple of basal leaves. Note in the picture below that the leaves are small, simple, and ovate.

Look for Slender Ladies’ Tresses in dry fields and open woods in August and September. The flower stalks range from 6 to 15 inches in height.

Click on any photo below to open a larger viewer.

3 thoughts on “Slender Ladies’ Tresses

  1. Hi. Last year we were camping over Labor Day near Big Meadows, Shenandoah. We were hiking in the meadows, and I came across a gem – the Yellow Nodding Ladies’ Tresses!! I remember being amazed that this is an orchid species that blooms Sept to Nov! It was low to the ground and I thought few people would even observe!

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