Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Late-flowering ladies-tresses is perennial from stout fleshy roots. Plants may be up to two feet tall, but are usually about half that height in our area. Leaves are about four inches long and 3/8 inch wide and are mostly dead or dying before the flowers appear. About two or three dozen very fragrant flowers form three rows on a twisted spike taller than the leaves. These whitish, semitransparent flowers are about 1/2 inch long, with a fleshy lower lip that is yellowish in the center. Fruits are tiny erect capsules filled with seeds.
Often inconspicuous among the tall prairie grasses, late-flowering ladies-tresses is nevertheless a beautiful plant. Look for it from late August to early October on fairly moist upland prairie or old road ditches. This species is never very abundant and has no known value for forage or medicine.
This plant is a member of the cosmopolitan orchid family (Orchidaceae), which is the largest in the world with nearly 500 genera and about 20,000 species. Orchids depend on soil fungi for part of their food and some species are entirely devoid of chlorophyll. Some tropical species live underqround for a considerable period of time before aboveground stems and leaves are produced. The generic name Spiranthes derives its name from the Greek speira, "a coil" and anthos, "flower," concerning the twisted spike. The specific epithet magnicamporum means "large and bent" in botanical Latin, likely in allusion to the flowering spike. Late-flowering ladies-tresses was first described for science by orchid specialist Charles John Sheviak (1947-) of the New York State Museum, Albany.