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Fragrant Ladies Tresses Spiranthes cernua

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
spy-RAN-theez SER-new-a
Description

Spiranthes cernua, or Nodding Ladies Tresses, is a herbaceous, perennial wildflower in the orchid family, often found in swamps, meadows, wet roadsides and bogs. It is native to the eastern United States and features small, very fragrant, hooded, white flowers densely arranged in vertical, slightly spiral-like rows on spikes typically growing 9 to 18 inches tall. The blooms appear in late summer to fall, often to first frost. The spiraling flower arrangement is the result of uneven cell growth, which results in a twisting of the flower stems. It is synonymous with and often listed and sold as Spiranthes cerna var. odorata, although the S. odorata has slightly larger flowers. This is one of the few orchids that have a fragrance.

The plant is best grown in moist, boggy, acidic soils in part shade. This is a classic bog plant. Nodding Ladies Tresses spread slowly by rhizomes to form colonies under optimum growing conditions.

Each flower is about 1/3 of an inch 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. 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. Starting plants from seed is quite difficult; on the other hand, this orchid is easier to transplant than most others.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:

No serious insect or disease problems.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#partial shade#moist soil#herbaceous#rhizomes#orchid#wildflower garden
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#partial shade#moist soil#herbaceous#rhizomes#orchid#wildflower garden
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Spiranthes
    Species:
    cernua
    Family:
    Orchidaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern Canada to Texas and Florida
    Wildlife Value:
    The flowers attract bees.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 0 ft. 9 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 0 ft. 9 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Wildflower
    Habit/Form:
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Winter
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Description:
    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.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Spike
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Long Bloom Season
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Lipped
    Flower Petals:
    2-3 rays/petals
    Colored Sepals
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Small, white, fragrant, slightly downward-curved, double lipped flowers in a double spiral on 8 to 18 inch stem that bloom in September and October.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Type:
    Sheath
    Leaf Shape:
    Lanceolate
    Linear
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    Three to four slender 12 inch leaves. Lance-shaped, linear leaves in basal rosettes, with some leaves extending up the flower spikes. The leaves have 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.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Bud Terminal:
    Cluster of terminal buds
    Stem Cross Section:
    Round
    Stem Form:
    Straight
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The flowering stalk has 6 to12 flowers occurring on the upper half. Flowers are densely arranged in vertical, slightly spiral-like rows on spikes typically growing 9 to 18 inches tall (sometimes 24 inches).
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Pond
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Wet Soil