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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - August 25, 2013

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Plant identification
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Found a plant with tiny, white, fragrant flowers on spires by a lake near Fredericksburg, TX. Could you possibly identify it?

ANSWER:

This sounds to me like one of the Spiranthes orchids and I think it would be one of the two described below:

Spiranthes cernua (Nodding lady's tresses) described as "flowers sometimes fragrant" and "leaves present at flowering time."  Here is the USDA Plants Database Texas county distribution map.  It is shown occurring in Mason and Llano counties, but not in Gillespie County.

Spiranthes magnicamporum (Great plains lady's-tresses) is described as "flowers fragrant often with strong odor similar to vanilla" and "leaves usually absent at flowering time."  Here is the Texas County distribution map from the USDA Plants Database.  It is shown occurring in Travis and Comal counties but not in Gillespie County.

The fact that neither orchid is shown as occurring in Gillespie County does not mean it doesn't occur there.   All it means is that it hasn't yet been reported there, or to quote the caption beneath the distribution maps on the USDA Plants Database:

"Our county data are based primarily on the literature, herbarium specimens, and confirmed observations. However, not all populations have been documented, so some gaps in the distribution shown above may not be real. Remember that only native and naturalized populations are mapped!"

You can read the description of the two orchids above as well as other Spriranthes species on pp. 1218-1222 of Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas.

If neither of the plants above is the plant you saw and you have a photo of it, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.

 

From the Image Gallery


Nodding ladies'-tresses
Spiranthes cernua

Nodding ladies'-tresses
Spiranthes cernua

Nodding ladies'-tresses
Spiranthes cernua

Great plains ladies'-tresses
Spiranthes magnicamporum

Great plains ladies'-tresses
Spiranthes magnicamporum

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