The rich vanilla-fragrance of ladies' tresses along the autumn trail is a startling and most pleasant experience. There where the trail through the mixed hardwoods comes out into the broad sunshine, where the goldenrod and asters blossom abundantly, there are low, ivory-white orchids in full bloom. It is mid-September, and the latest orchid of the year, and one of the most fragrant of all wild orchids, is in blossom.
Spiranthes cernua (L.) Richard.
September Dry woods, sunny banks.
Ladies' tresses grow in rather unexpected places. Rather, in autumn one has forgotten about looking for orchids; besides, most wild orchids grow in deep woodlands or in logs. It seems odd to find wild orchids growing so well in the dry clay soil along the foot-trail toward the upland. The soil is hard, the sun is bright, and the dry Aristida grasses send their three-pronged seed-awns into the socks of the passing hiker. Yet here are delicate little white orchids, the ladies' tresses.
Spiranthes is a spike orchid. In spring the dark green, narrow. Mum leaves come up along the trail and stay green most of the summer. By August, however, they have disappeared, and a month later the tight stalks with the braided white buds grow into the September sunshine. The flowers begin to bloom from the botton of the spike and are in blossom for several weeks until the last pointed white bud at the tip of the stem is out of bloom. The flowers are curved with frilled lower lip and white parts arched on either side of the tube. And the fragrance fills the air. It comes to meet the hiker long before he has reached the spot where the ladies' tresses bloom. It rises like something tangible into the sunshine, and arbutus-like, pervades the area where September orchids bloom.