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Spiranthes cernua (Nodding ladies'-tresses)
Cressler, Alan

Spiranthes cernua

Spiranthes cernua (L.) Rich.

Nodding Ladies'-tresses, Ladies'-tresses, Nodding Lady's Tresses

Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Synonym(s): Ibidium cernuum, Spiranthes cernua var. incurva


USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

Few people would guess that Spiranthes flowers are orchids, a fact that may help save them from collectors. The narrow, grasslike leaves are 8-10 inches long, growing from the base of the plant. The flowers are white and grow along the upper part of the slender, erect stem, which is 1-2 feet tall. They grow in 2-4 spiraling rows, forming a dense spike 6 inches long. The individual flowers, about 1/2 inch long, curve downward slightly, "nodding." The lip is about 1/2 inch long, with a flaring, crimped margin. This is one of the few orchids that have a fragrance.

A dozen or more species of Ladies'-tresses are known in the eastern United States. Among those with pronounced spirals are Slender Ladies'-tresses (S. lacera), with ovate leaves and a green spot on the lip; Short-lipped Ladies'-tresses (S. brevilabris), with a downy floral spike; and Little Ladies'-tresses (S. tuberosa), with tiny flowers. In southern marshes and swamps Fragrant Ladies'-tresses (S. odorata), grows to 2-3' (60-90 cm) and has spirally arranged clusters of fragrant flowers.


From the Image Gallery

72 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Up to about 2 feet tall.
Leaf: Green.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Jul , Aug , Sep , Oct , Nov


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: Ontario to Nova Scotia and northern New England; south to Florida; west to Texas; north to South Dakota.
Native Habitat: Fields, damp meadows, moist thickets, and grassy swamps.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Clay, Loam, Sand


Use Medicinal: Plant tea used as a diuretic for urinary disorders, venereal disease, and as a wash to strengthen infants. (Foster & Duke)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - Austin, TX
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS


Bibref 417 - Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (2000) Foster, S. & J. A. Duke
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (1989) Enquist, M.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Spiranthes cernua in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Spiranthes cernua in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Spiranthes cernua


Record Modified: 2023-04-25
Research By: TWC Staff

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