Twist and Shout!

While performing wetlands/waters delineation work in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, I happened upon a loose aggregate of an autumn flowering orchid called Nodding Ladies-Tresses (Spiranthes cernua).

The bright white of these small orchids helps them to stand out in the grass and weeds, otherwise they would be easy to miss in September wetland meadows.  They typically stand only 4 to 12 inches in height.

Few people would guess that Spiranthes flowers are orchids, a fact that may help save them from collectors.

Nodding Ladies’ Tresses orchids bear their tiny flowers in a “double, intertwined” spiraling fashion along the stem.

The entire inflorescence starts off as an elegant twist of buds, and then each tubular flower unfurls slowly from the bottom to the top.

The lower lip of the flowers is almost clear, or crystalline.  The flowers tend to angle downward, hence the name “nodding”.

And because the flowers “spiral” along the stem like the old-fashioned long curls of ladies long ago, they received the name “ladies’ tresses”.

Stem leaves are few, very narrow, clasping the flowering stem.  The basal leaves have usually disappeared before the flowers appear.

The leaves are generally not visible at bloom time, but if they are, look for one or two small leaves at the base of the flower stalk.

The leaves will be grass-like, with smooth margins.  This is one of the few orchids that have a fragrance.

This species prefers to keep its feet wet and is typically found in bogs, wet woods, near seeps, damp meadows, moist thickets, and grassy swamps.

What an exciting find!  Some of the best of the individuals were growing in saturated soil, along with sphagnum.  Because this is my first exposure to this plant, I laid down in the wet meadow to get these shots, and remained wet for much of the of the 86-degree day.  The work site is 15,000-acres of mountains, east of the famous Hershey (chocolate), Pennsylvania, and this job will take a good few days yet to complete.  The other team of two from our company saw a black bear up close and personal this week while we were in the field.