Field of Science

Unexpected garden find - an orchid

The greatest joy of wildish gardens and grounds comes from those unexpected visits from unexpected guests. As it turns out Mrs. Phactor is quite observant and has discovered several such visitors, and now what may well turn out to be a new resident, even though its presence is quite a puzzlement.

The funny little plant growing in the leafy litter under the Douglas fir turned out to be an orchid, Spiranthes cernua, nodding lady’s tresses. These are fairly tough little (6-8" tall) late summer and fall flowering orchids, and considered fairly easy to grow. A similar species, slender lady’s tresses, grows on the Phactor’s prairie study site. The genus name comes from the spiral organization of the flowers on the inflorescence (spiro- spiral, anthes – flowers).

So how did it get to our garden in a city’s center? Orchids have absolutely minute seeds, dust seeds, and plants with such tiny seeds usually make large numbers of them. Other species of lady’s tresses are known to produce 2000-3000 seeds per tiny fruit and you can judge from the number of flowers how many fruits there may be. Wind dispersal can deposit such seeds a long ways from their origin, and most will lose the land-in-a-good-place lottery. Fortunately for us, a seed found its way to our bit of nature. Now if the stinking rodents stay away, our new resident will enjoy a long and hopefully productive life.

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