Spiranthes cernua (Nodding Ladies'-tresses)
|Also known as:|
|Habitat:||sun; wet meadows, lakeshores|
|Bloom season:||July - September|
|Plant height:||6 to 24 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Spiraling stalk of closely clustered, crystally translucent white flowers thrusting their twisting trumpets out at right angles to the stalk. Upper sepal and 2 petals are fused forming a 3-lobed lip curling up at the top; 2 narrow lateral sepals at the sides are separate and straight or flare up slightly. The lower lip curls down, has lacy edges and is pale yellowish to greenish inside the throat, never larger than ¼ inch across the face. Flowers are about 1/3 inch from back to front and are typically slightly drooping but may be horizontal or slightly ascending. There are typically 3 to 4 flowers in one cycle of a spiral, rarely 5. Behind the flower is a clasping bract covered in white glandular hairs.
Leaves and stem:
There are 1 to a few basal leaves, narrowly elliptical to lance shaped, 2½ to 11 inches long, ¼ to ½ inch wide on a slender stalk. A few scale-like leaves are alternately attached and sheathing the stem. The stem is smooth near the base of the plant and covered in short hairs nearer the flowers. The leaves persist during the blooming period.
An earlier successional species (where invasives are not rampant) this plant can be fickle in its movements, melting away as more mature ecosystems establish. There are 5 species of Spiranthes in Minnesota. Distinguishing some of them can be a challenge, but things to look for are whether the leaves wither away during the blooming period, shape of the hood and positioning of the lateral petals. Most similar are Great Plains Ladies'-tresses (S. magnicamporum), which loses its leaves by flowering time, and Hooded Ladies'-tresses (S. romanzoffiana), which has a broader hood with the lateral sepals and petals all pressed together.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Blaine, MN, August-September 2009; other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken on private property in Lino Lakes
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?