Sunday, 22 August 2010

Autumn Lady's-tresses

The Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) are out now and seeing these flowers is the last hurrah of the summer. At a time of year when most plants have set seeds these small orchids are just bursting into fresh flowers.

 In Wild Flower Key Rose and O'Reilly describe the flowers as coconut scented. They are but I have only ever picked up the smell at the end of the day as the sun is starting to set. In the morning or middle of the day they have always remained unscented.

The species name of “spiralis” describes the arrangement of flowers in a spiral up the stem. A hand lens or magnifying glass makes it possible to appreciate the crystalline petals that appear through the lens as fresh and crisp as fresh snow. The sparkling white of the petals is further enhanced on a sunny day when light catches the fine layer of downy hairs that cover the ovaries.
There are two distinct kinds of leaves on the plants. Small scale like leaves are on the flower stem. Near to the flower stem you may discern a small rosette of blue-green leaves that carry out most of the photosynthesis for the plant.
Autumn Lady’s-tresses flower from August to September. They are found on calcareous grasslands or sandy dunes. I have found them most often on chalky grassland by the coast. I have heard of colonies growing in graveyards that are lightly maintained by mowing – allowing a short but not overly cropped grassy sward.
At only 7-20cm high when flowering they are not easy to spot. Stopping to look closer at what appears to be a short grass flower head can often lead to their discovery. The fine details of the white petals with the lower lip marked with a green centre are only discernable at close range.


Peter Hunt said...

Hi Susanne,I have these little beauties growing in my lawn.Can you tell me please if they are a protected species?
thanks Peter

Susanne said...

The whole orchid family is listed on CITES, so there is theoretical protection from international trade, in practice enforcing CITES can be difficult. Autumn Lady's tresses have not be assessed by the IUCN. In the UK they are not specifically protected by any legislation. Although they come under general sections of the Wildlife and Countryside Act e.g. cannot be dug up without landowner's permission. They would also come under different protection if in a nature reserve. Growing in your lawn they seem to be thriving on your mowing regime, avoidance of using fertilisers and herbicides.

Anonymous said...

Hundreds of them have just appeared in my lawn. About 10 years ago we had about 50 Bee Orchids which we left, but non since. I intend leaving these now, about 100 plants, and seeing if they return in seven years time.