Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis (Southern Slender Ladies'-tresses)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; plains, open meadows
Bloom season:August - September
Plant height:5 to 20 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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] Tightly to loosely packed spike cluster of 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 4 to 6 flowers in a cycle.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of stem leaves] Basal leaves are variable but generally oval-elliptic, up to 2 inches long and to ¾ inch wide, and typically wither away by flowering time. A few sheathing, bract-like leaves are scattered along the stem. The stem is hairless.


Two varieties of Spiranthes lacera are recognized in Minnesota: Southern Slender Ladies'-tresses (var. gracilis, sometimes known by synonym Spiranthes gracilis) is, as the name suggests, the more southern species and associated with open meadow from the eastern Great Plains and throughout the southeastern US. In Minnesota this species is known only from two 100+ year old specimens collected somewhere in Hennepin county. Present in bordering counties of both Iowa and Wisconsin, it might appear again someday in our southern counties. Northern Slender Ladies'-tresses (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.  It's distinguished from var. gracilis by hairs on the stem, basal leaves persisting through flowering time, and usually 8 to 10 flowers in a cycle of the spiral.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Vicky May taken in Arkansas.


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