Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nodding Lady's Tresses

Orchids have that allure: I hate to think how many ladyslippers have been destroyed over the years by zealous, would-be wildflower gardeners (come to think of it, I have a few on my conscience)...of course before we flagellate ourselves, let's remember for every rare plant destroyed needlessly for horticulture, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands disappeared for agriculture, cities, mining and other human uses and abuses that we all depend upon. Nevertheless...
It is delightful when an orchid proves accommodating. The 'Chadd's Ford' selection of the common lady's tresses of the Eastern States can be found at garden centers, which is where my original plant originated. I planted it rather dubiously five or six years ago. Today, there are dozens of those shimmering white flowers gleaming and glimmering throughout my little bog. I assume they are seedlings. I have not dug them up to see if any came from runners.In fact, it's the most successful plant there (if one ignores the profligate curly rush and some weedy interlopers...). I always worry a bit in August, since the shoots never look promising until the coolth of autumn when they shoot up and bloom for weeks on end. They are still going strong the second half of October.
These are not for xeriscapes, I fear: they like to grow in a boggy, wet site with lots of full sun. That's not a common garden condition in Colorado, but well worth creating.
Ironically, the two lady's tresses that grow in Colorado are probably much harder to grow: I was the first to press a specimen of Spiranthes diluvialis, a lovely waif described from Golden, Colorado where Stanley Smookler was the first to find it. This used to occur by the thousand at that site, although I have not seen it in recent years. It has now been found in many Western States, and has a very complicated geneology. It looks so similar to S. cernua that I keyed it out to that plant and thought I had a state record when I first saw it. I never imagined that it could possibly turn out to be a species new to science (the first of half a dozen I've had a hand in discovering).
One of my earliest plant memories was of seeing our Subalpine lady's tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) intermingled with fringed gentians on the Flattops. I confess, I have tried to recreate that picture in my garden, but the darned gentians are harder to grow!
I love to watch the graceful way the flowers twist down the stem, exactly like a graceful long haired lady's tresses indeed! Sometimes I think we like the plant more because of its name!

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