Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Great Plains Ladies'-tresses


Little white spires of orchid flowers dot the open gravelly substrate of the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve in Ottawa County, Ohio. I was exploring some of the most interesting habitats of Lake Erie's western basin last Saturday, and almost on a whim, decided to stop at this site. I was with Shauna Weyrauch, an Ohio State University professor who studies Bobcats, and was introducing her to some of the region's rare plants.

We saw the Great Plains Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) before the car was even stopped. They were everywhere; a decided boom year, which happens with some orchids. There were dozens and dozens of plants, hundreds I am sure, if one scoured the preserve's 19 acres in its entirety.

A Great Plains Ladies'-tresses springs from the gravel. Nearly all of its botanical companions are rare, or at least not plants that one finds everywhere. In this photo, the orchid shares space with the federally threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea), Slender Foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia), and Bristle-leaved Sedge (Carex eburnea). The orchid is listed as Potentially Threatened in Ohio, a watch list category and one step below Threatened.

A close-up of the inflorescence and its beautiful flowers. Ladies'-tresses flowers look like they are crafted from confectioner's sugar. The overall look is enchanting, but to really appreciate these Lilliputs one must drop to the ground to best observe the 6-8-inch-tall spikes.

This map is courtesy of BONAP and shows the distribution of this aptly named orchid. As is true with many prairie and Great Plains species, their eastern terminus is in or around Ohio. The counties shaded in yellow denote rare status. Eleven Ohio counties are highlighted, but the little orchid is certainly extirpated from some of those. And there are precious few locales in the counties where it does remain.

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