Monday, September 20, 2010

Orchids on the Prairie

When you think of places to find orchids, you might picture a tropical rainforest . . . or perhaps a nursery greenhouse. But at least two native orchids grow on the prairie, and I was surprised to find one of them is in full bloom along our prairie trail. (Thanks Paul for the heads' up!)

Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) is the most common species of orchid found here. "Common" is a relative term here, as you certainly won't find them on every prairie. I've only seen Ladies' Tresses at one other site in central Nebraska, and I'm told they've since disappeared from that location.

Stalks of Ladies' Tresses are typically no more than a foot high and can be easily missed among clumps of taller grasses. When you find one, make sure to get close and give a good sniff . . . the scent is well worth grass stains on the knees of your jeans.

Ladies' Tresses are occasionally available for sale as a garden plant. I tried some in my yard and had no luck at all, perhaps because its roots need to form an association with a certain species of fungus. No fungus, no Ladies' Tresses. Perhaps thumbs greener than mine have had more success.

Our Open House this Saturday provides a great chance to see a native orchid. We'll treat you to a hot dog while you're here. Check it out!

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