Spiranthes cernua (Nodding Ladies'-tresses)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life cycle:perennial
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowers] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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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More photos

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?

Posted by: Natalie - Bovey, Itasca County
on: 2013-09-24 17:27:07

Flowering alongside the Mesabi Trail near County Rd 15, September 2013.

Posted by: Gloria - Blaine Preserve Scientific and Natural Area (SNA)
on: 2013-09-28 07:43:31

I took photos of this lovely flower not long ago. Your photos seemed to match my observations of this plant. If you would like me send you my photos, let me know. Gloria

Posted by: Bob - Roscoe Prairie Nature Conservancy
on: 2014-09-09 08:46:21

I found at least 10 Nodding Ladies'-tresses yesterday right along the road at Roscoe Prairie NE of Paynesville. Also in bloom were Fringed Gentian, Closed Gentian and Lobelia. I am posting this because I don't see the Nodding Ladies'-tresses listed on your distribution map for this area. I have photos if you would like to see. Just let me know.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-09-09 10:58:07

Bob, the best way to get distribution maps updated is by submitting a plant specimen to the Bell Museum Herbarium. Then it becomes part of the official county records. If you're interested in doing that, the Bell has collecting guidelines on their website. You just need permission from the landowner before collecting from public or private land.

Posted by: Joseph - Rochester, Olmsted County
on: 2016-08-30 20:53:04

Floor of a reclaimed quarry with rocky-sandy soil and moist. A scatter of at least two dozen plants now in bloom (8-20-2016). Photographs available. They began opening several days ago.

Posted by: Kenny h - Shooting Star Scenic By way West of LeRoy
on: 2017-08-22 18:02:26

Found this beautiful orchid close to where the fringed orchids were blooming in July...wet boggy ditch bottom on Shooting Star Scenic Byway

Posted by: Jen C
on: 2019-09-30 22:28:23

I would like to point out that the first sentence of this flower description is like poetry. Bravo!

Posted by: Jane Johnson - Tofte
on: 2020-08-30 12:41:23

These bloom late Aug into Sept near an old gravel pit about 1 mile inland from lake Superior. Its a moist open area.

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