Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Yellow Ladies'-tresses - Spiranthes ochroleuca   (Rydberg) Rydberg
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Section 5 » Order Orchidales » Family Orchidaceae
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Author(Rydberg) Rydberg
DistributionFound over most of the northern and central Mountains, and scattered in the southern Mountains. As it is not known from SC or GA, the scarcity of records from southern counties is likely real.

This is a Northern species, found sparingly in southeastern Canada, south throughout PA, but southward mainly in the Appalachian Mountains south to western NC and scattered in TN. It is quite rare west of eastern OH.
AbundanceRare in the Mountains, but seemingly absent in the southwestern counties (west of Haywood and Jackson counties). Though the NC NHP has about 12-13 records, only about half of them are considered to be current. It is a State Threatened species.
HabitatThis is a species of cool, mid- to high elevation sites in NC, generally not in wet spots but in drier sunny, grassy places -- meadows and pastures, including grass balds and open woodlands.
See also Habitat Account for Montane Forblands and Successional Fields
PhenologyThis is a late-blooming species, generally from September to October. It fruits shortly after flowering. This is roughly the same time span of flowering by the much more common S. cernua in the Mountains.
IdentificationThis is a medium-sized species of Spiranthes in height, generally around 1 foot tall. The inflorescence of creamy-white flowers is fairly dense, but if you look closely you will note that they are arranged in a single tight row/rank, clearly spiraling. The similar S. cernua has several ranks of flowers. The flowers are a bit narrower and more tapering to the tip than are those of S. cernua, which has more rectangular-shaped flowers when viewed from the side. S. ochroleuca typically has some yellow on the top of the lip. S. lucida also has yellow on the top of the lip, but that species has a very strong patch of bright yellow on the lip and has several ranks/rows of flowers. Some populations of S. ochroleuca can have pale yellow flowers, though some are completely white, and thus you should be prepared to identify it by other characters, such as by its leaves (check references for more details). Unlike with S. lucida, observers have a chance to discover a new population, if they spend much time working grassy balds and other fairly high-elevation grassy places.
Taxonomic CommentsMost older references failed to recognize the species, or had it simply sunk within S. cernua, without naming it as a variety. Even more recent references and field guides fail to list this species. As we know now, S. cernua from the "older days" consisted of numerous taxa not well studied, but now have been split out as good species.

Other Common Name(s)Yellow Nodding Ladies'-tresses. The fact that this alternative common name uses "Nodding" makes it clear it was generally subsumed within true Nodding Ladies'-tresses (S. cernua). Note that the "yellow" refers to the flower color, but most photos on Google images and other websites show flowers generally white.
State RankS1 [S1S2]
Global RankG4
State StatusT
US Status
USACE-agcp
USACE-emp
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B.A. SorriePhoto taken 1989, Holyoke, MA. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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