A Ladies Tresses Orchid

With our recent 100-plus days and extreme drought, I didn’t expect to find much in bloom this morning on our hike. Buffy and I left early for my rural property. I glanced around the grassy barrens as we crossed it on our way to the ravine/woods. Early goldenrod and ironweed were just starting to bloom.

Ladies tresses orchids ( Spiranthes vernalis) could bloom mid July. These pictures were taken in August 2007. It could bloom even later.

Spiranthes vernalis is a state endangered plant. My location was the third in the Illinois. I can’t remember how many years ago it was that I found it. Probably 25 years or so. It’s now found in 8 counties, and three of them are in southern part of the state.

S. vernalis blooms earlier than the other Spiranthes do. It has a single spiral of flowers, and the flowers are 6-11 mm long. The other Spiranthes have either single or triple spiral. The vernalis is also distinguished by yellow on the lip.

Five species of ladies tresses orchids grow on my property, and they all bloom in the fall. The S. gracilis grows up to 20 inches (I never saw any anywhere near that tall.) The flowers are 4-6 mm, meaning they’re quite a challenge to find.

All orchids have radial symmetry, meaning one side mirrors the other.

I do have an orchid-related story I’d like to tell. One fall, many years ago, I hiked to a place where the S. gracilis grows on a hill west of the creek. After admiring 3 of them, I started back toward the truck. A rattlesnake rattled at me. I stopped immediately, looking around for the snake. I stood, and looked and looked but couldn’t find it. I took another step. It rattled again. Without ever locating it, I headed on back. It didn’t rattle again.

I told the story several times. It dawned on me about a month later that my hearing is backwards. The snake had been right behind me! Timber rattlers and copperheads both occur there in low numbers. It all the years of camping and hiking there, I only saw one copperhead, in camp of all places. I decided to go home instead of camping.

The other rattler was in the interior barrens. I’d been drawing the upside reflection in a drop of water hanging from a leaf. When I got done, I started walking and saw the tail end of a rattlesnake sneaking into the grass. I said it could have that barrens and I’d take the other one.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on August 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for sharing. With this drought, not many flowers are blooming. Thanks for refreshing my memory. My soul loved it. Rattlesnake…ewwww!


    • I looked night before last for the orchid again. No luck. They can be a fickle bunch … rattlesnakes, or other snakes wouldn’t be out in this heat. (The only good thing about all this heat that I can think of.)


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