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Nodding Ladies' Tresses

Spiranthes cernua


This perennial plant is usually 4-12" tall and unbranched. There is a rosette of 2-6 strap-like basal leaves that are individually about 3-8" long and 1/3" (8 mm.) across. They are linear to linear-oblanceolate with smooth margins, and usually wither away before the flowers bloom. On robust specimens, there may be 1 or 2 small leaves on the lower flowering stalk. The flowering stalk is up to 1' tall, with 6-12 flowers occurring on the upper half. These flowers are arranged on the stalk as intertwined double spirals – as a result, the individual spirals are not readily discernible. The flowering stalk is light green and covered more or less with white glandular hairs. At the base of each flower, there is a conspicuous green bract that is curved and narrowly ovate. Each flower is about 1/3" (8 mm.) long, consisting of 3 white sepals and 3 white petals. The upper sepal and upper two petals are fused together and form a curved hood that curls upward at its tip, forming a small upper lip with 3 lobes. The lower petal has a prominent lip that hangs downward and has a crystalline appearance, while the lateral sepals are linear and non-spreading. Together, these sepals and petals form a tubular-shaped flower that nods downward. The blooming period can occur from late summer until the fall, and lasts about a month. There is usually a mild floral scent. Some plants may form cleistogamous flowers. Fertilized flowers are replaced by pods containing the tiny seeds, which are easily carried aloft by the wind. These pods may be capable of photosynthesis while they are green. The root system consists of a cluster of fleshy roots at the base of the plant that are finger-like in shape, and occasional rhizomes may be produced. This orchid can reproduce from the seeds of the flowers, or it may form offsets from rhizomes. Normal growth and development won't occur unless the root system forms an endomycorrhizal association with the appropriate species of fungus.

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Spotted by

Wisconsin, USA

Spotted on Sep 9, 2015
Submitted on Oct 18, 2016

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