A Tress, a Curl, an Orchid…

Last we met, I introduced you to two uncommon orchids that occur in isolated areas of Georgia. They were small blossoms with a winter leaf, and were hard to distinguish the two separate species. Let’s look at a similar orchid that also blooms on a spike but has curious habit – the blossoms twirl around the central spike making it easy to identify if you were so lucky as to locate this fascinating plant. A Lady’s tress is defined in any dictionary as a long curl of hair and that is exactly how the Ladies’ Tresses Orchid can be described. There are about 45 species of this orchid worldwide and a dozen can be found in Georgia although most are very rare. The Spiranthes odorata, or Marsh Ladies’ Tresses, grows in moist open woodlands and is more common in South Georgia although I have found a few in Central and North Georgia.

The unique form of twirling blossoms on a long spike similar to a twirl of hair over the shoulder give the Ladies’ Tresses its memorable name.

Each blossom is white, sometimes light yellow, with several dozen 1/4 inch blooms opening from bottom to top. It is pollinated by bumblebees who are drawn to its pleasant scent and plentiful nectar.

Ladies’ Tresses blooms are but 1/4 inch long, have a lower lip, and very fine hairs over the entire plant.
The Southern Ladies’ Tresses is also native to Georgia.

Ladies’ Tresses should not be removed from their native habitat since they will not survive in a cultivated garden. Nursery specimens are available and the right combination of soil, ample moisture, and no fertilizer should produce years of blooms. They then can be separated by rhizome division to produce new plants.

Leaves are basal and the shoot is asparagus-like as are many native orchids.
The Nodding Ladies’ Tresses is pollinated by bumblebees.
The Chinese Ladies’ Tresses doesn’t grow in Georgia but I wish it did!

Wow! We very rarely see Ladies’ Tresses in Georgia but when we do, we can’t forget the minute twirling blossoms characteristic of its species.

Remember, Ladies; Tresses are very small and easily overlooked.

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