ghost orchid

Spring Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)

Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website

Classification:
  Kingdom:   Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom:   Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
      Superdivision:   Spermatophyta - Seed plants
        Division:   Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
          Class:   Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
            Subclass:   Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
              Order:   Orchidales - Orchid order
                Family:   Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
                  Subfamily:   Spiranthoideae - Spiranthoids
                    Tribe:   Cranichideae - Cranichids
                      Subtribe:   Spiranthinae - Spiranthines


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Spring Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)
Description:
Summary: Small-medium sized perennial herbs with a basal clump of grasslike leaves. Spikes with many small, white flowers arranged in variously tight spirals. Dorsal sepal and petals clasp in a hood over the lip, which often shows a pair of brown dots when it ages. Lateral sepals spread widely. May be distinguished from the look-alike S. laciniata by the blooming season and by the fact that the downy hairs on the flowering stem terminate in a sharp point (as opposed to ball-tipped hairs in S. laciniata).

Common Name: Spring Ladies' Tresses

Habitat: open, grassy areas; fields; wet ditches

Flowering season: March through June (peaking in May)

Images:
 
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Flower Closeup
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Flower Closeup
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Entire Spike
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Entire Spike
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Closeup with 'Guest'
Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis) - Closeup with 'Guest'
Crab Spider on a Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)
Crab Spider on a Spring Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes vernalis)

Description:
 

This is one of the most common orchids in Florida, being found in nearly every county in the state. In fact, those few gaps showing in the distribution map represent counties where official herbarium collections have not been made, but most likely harbor specimens of this species as well. It also inhabits a variety of habitats, from dry meadows to wet ditches. It seems the only requirement for this species is that the area be reasonably open and free from competing vegetation.

The leaves are grass-like and wilt soon after flowering is over. New leaves emerge in fall and last through the winter, being surprisingly frost-resistant. The flowering stem emerges from the center of this rosette of leaves to bloom in mid-late spring. The delicate spiral of flowers ascending the spike reminded early settlers of the braids of a woman's hair, giving rise to the common name of Ladies Tresses.

There is a look-alike species to this one, Spiranthes laciniata. S. vernalis blooms much earlier and also has sharply tipped hairs on the flowering spike (you need a strong hand-lens to see this) as opposed to ball-tipped hairs on S. laciniata.

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