Pictured above: Fragrant ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes odorata) by Mary Keim. Click on terms for botanical definitions.
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Fragrant ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes odorata) is a semi-aquatic to aquatic perennial native orchid. Its flowers are small, white and very fragrant with a vanilla-like scent. They are arranged in a spiral around a terminal spike. Upper tepals may be fused and form a hood-like structure over a lower lip. Like most orchids, the flowers are resupinate, which means their position turns upside down as they development. Its leaves are basal and narrowly lanceolate. Roots are fleshy and can appear tuberous. Seeds are tiny and born in capsules.
Fragrant ladies’-tresses occurs naturally in swamps, wet pinelands and seepage slopes and blooms fall through early winter. It is one of the few orchids that can be considered aquatic.
The genus Spiranthes comes from the Greek speira, meaning “coil,” and anthos, meaning “flower.” It refers to the spiral arrangement of the inflorescence. The species epithet odorata comes from the Latin for “fragrant” or “perfumed”— literally translated as “with an odor.”
Family: Orchidaceae (Orchid family)
Native range: Throughout most of Florida
To see where natural populations of fragrant ladies’-tresses have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/.
Hardiness: Zones 8-11
Soil: Seasonally wet to moist, well-drained sandy, organic or calcareous soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Growth habit: 6-10” tall
Garden tips: Fragrant ladies’ tresses is not widely cultivated, however, if you can find it, it is the perfect addition to a bog garden. Plants can tolerate shallow standing water. They are not drought- or salt-tolerant. They can spread via underground runners.
Fragrant ladies’ tresses are rarely available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Growers may list availability at www.plantrealflorida.org.