A Ladies’ Tresses Orchid

 Buffy and I went for a morning hike along the lake trail at Jones Lake. It was a cloudy, windy morning with the temperature climbing into low 50’s. We started down the hill from the parking lot, and hadn’t reached the bottom when I found an orchid in bloom.

It was a ladies tresses orchid (Spiranthes sp.) Five species of them grow here in southern Illinois. Usually the only one I see in October has a triple spiral of flowers and 2 leaves.

This one had a single spiral, and the leaves had already dried. The plant stood 8 inches tall.

The lip had yellow on it. A state-endangered ladies’ tresses orchid has a single spiral and yellow on the lip. It’s much taller and blooms earlier in the season.

There are 2 other ladies’ tresses species with a single spiral that bloom earlier too. Their flowers are smaller than the ones on this plant. The flowers on this one measured 7mm.

This picture shows the spiral of the flowers from a different angle.

I was focusing so hard on the orchid that I didn’t notice this one until I stood up. It was only 4 feet from the one in above pictures.

Even with my Illinois and a Missouri orchid books, I couldn’t decide definitely which orchid species these were. Two of my friends are botanists. I sent them pictures and information before starting this blog. Needless to say, I’m anxious to hear from them.


One friend replied. He said it’s a Spiranthes ovalis, a rare orchid. Larry worked in southern Illinois, first for the IDNR and then Shawnee National Forest for many years. He’s now the national botanist for the U.S. Forest Service in D.C. He’s only seen 2 of these orchids in Illinois. That makes this find even that more exciting!

One never knows what one might find while hiking along.


10 responses to this post.

  1. What a great find! It’s so pretty and delicate, I like the contrast to the leaves.


  2. Posted by Therese on November 4, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I can’t find the words. Beauty, even in small things!


  3. What a great find..:-))


  4. Lovely flower and the fact that it is rare is a real bonus. Thanks for sharing it with us. It’s pretty amazing that you were able to see it, given how small and delicate it is.


    • The light on it made it stand out. When I was walking back to the truck,I couldn’t find the orchid and had to go to the start of the trail and find it that way. I think it wanted the notoriety.


  5. Beautiful. I keep hoping to stumble upon ladies tresses but so far, no luck.


    • We have 6 or 7 species here in southern Illinois and only one is easy to spot. Having the light right helps. Now that I think about it only a few of our orchids are showy. They make for a most exciting find! Good luck.


  6. Just two days before your post I also did one about Spiranthes, showing the only species of orchid I’ve ever found in the wild in Austin:



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