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Ladies' Tresses
Spiranthes cernua

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Ladies Tresses Orchid

Ladies' Tresses are uncommon orchids of our area. There are at least eight species in North Carolina, and are difficult to tell apart. They all share a similar and distinctive appearance  - small white flowers wound in a spiral fashion around a single stalk. The only other flower you might confuse with it would be Rattlesnake Plantain, yet another orchid of the Goodyera genus.  Rattlesnake Plantain has unmistakeable round basal leaves of dark green, with very clear tracings of white lines. Rattlesnake Plantain is fairly common throughout our area, favoring acid woodlands. All Ladies' Tresses have long, narrow leaves with no distinctive marks on them. In the mountains it is possible to find at least three species - Nodding (S. cernua), Little (S. grayi), and Slender (S. gracilis). Nodding likes wet ground and high altitude, and is also fragrant. The Little one likes the dry soil of rocky, piney woods and fields. Slender prefers sandy soil and open hardwood forest. So far, I believe I have only seen the Nodding one, which you can find on the permanently wet but sunny seepage slopes in and around Shining Rock Wilderness. You never know, though. Oddly enough, I found a Ladies' Tresses growing in my yard (a low elevation, east-facing dry slope). It is thriving in lousy clay soil and has lived through a few dry years. It even survived transplanting, which I had to do because it was getting stepped on. Compared to other native orchids, this one's pretty tough.

A note on the nomenclature (naming conventions) on this site: Scientific names and classifications are constantly being argued and changed, and it drives me nuts. Although I use many different sources for knowledge, for naming consistency  I  use the  "Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas" by Radford, Ahles and Bell, 1968 edition. This book is a well-established authority for the plants of our region and I've been using it for years. If for some reason I must use a different source for a particular plant, I will make note of it within the descriptive text. Don't like it? Tough!

Fiona Dudley
986 Reems Creek Road
Weaverville NC 28787


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