Spiranthes lacera var. lacera (Northern Slender Ladies'-tresses)
|Also known as:|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; dry sandy or rocky soil; open woods, meadows, roadsides, barrens|
|Bloom season:||July - August|
|Plant height:||6 to 18 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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A single row of 7 to 45 tiny, white, trumpet-like flowers spiraling up at the tip of a slender stem, though occasionally the flowers are arranged in a (more or less) straight column up one side (secund). Individual flowers are ¼ inch or less in length, often nodding, the narrow lateral sepals spreading wide like open arms with the lance-like lateral petals and upper sepal closely aligned, their tapered tips flared up, making a three parted hood above the frilly, broadly spreading lower lip. The center of the lower lip is tinged green or yellow. An erect, sharply tapered oval green bract encloses the ovary at each flower's base. A spiral typically has 8 to 10 flowers in a cycle.
Leaves and stems:
Except for a few bract-like leaves widely spaced along the stem, leaves are basal, oval-elliptic to egg-shaped, ¾ to 2 inches long and ¼ to ¾ inch wide, toothless and hairless, persisting while flowering. The stem of the slender flower stalk is smooth below becoming finely hairy (pubescent) in the flower spike.
For a flower that can attain nearly knee height, not even the best quality images can prepare you for the diminutive, wispy beauty of this slender orchid when you encounter it personally for the first time. Even relatively large numbers of plants do not readily catch the eye and are easily passed by. Two varieties are recognized for Minnesota. Var. lacera is considered a northern variant and is prevalent across the NE third of the state, preferring dry sandy soils often associated with stands of Jack pine throughout the Great Lakes and New England. Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis is more southern and associated with open meadow from the eastern Great Plains and throughout southeastern US. It's distinguished from var. lacera by more densely packed flowers, total absence of hairs on the stem, and basal leaves withered away by flowering time. In Minnesota it is known only from two 100+ year old specimens collected in Hennepin county. Present in bordering counties of both Iowa and Wisconsin, it might appear again someday.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Pine County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Lake County, and in Pine County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?