Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Woodland Ladies'-tresses - Spiranthes sylvatica   P.M. Brown
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Section 5 » Family Orchidaceae
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AuthorP.M. Brown
DistributionThis is a recently described species (2002), split off from Spiranthes praecox. There are very few specimens known from NC, and it is likely that there might be others lurking in various herbaria still under the name of S. praecox that have not been examined.

The BONAP map shows it only from extreme southern GA south into central FL, but Weakley (2018) gives its range from "VA south to c. peninsular FL". As there are a few specimens for NC, the BONAP map is certainly incomplete.
AbundanceWeakley (2018) shows it as "rare" in the NC Coastal Plain on his map, and the website editors have only uncovered specimens from about three localities so far. For now it is considered as "rare" in the state, and the editors have given it a State Rank of [S1?]. Also, owing to so little known about it in NC, the editors suggest that it should be on the NC NHP Watch List as [W7]. The population at Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area (Carteret County) contains hundreds of plants.
HabitatWeakley's (2018) habitat listings of "Live oak hammocks, interdune swales, rich dry forests, other woodlands" implies it is a plant mainly of upland wooded or semi-wooded habitats near the coast. The North American Orchid Conservation Center website states that it is "found growing in shaded habitats with dry soils such as roadsides, open woodlands, and live oak hammocks". Most of the relatively few NC specimens have been collected in moist to mesic maritime forests on barrier islands.
PhenologyBlooms from late March into June, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationBecause this is a split from S. praecox, this "new" species looks quite similar to that rather numerous and widespread species. S. sylvatica differs in its very pale green to creamy-colored flowers (but still "whitish") and its habit of growing mostly in dry to mesic forested soils, and not in strongly wetland sites such as marshes, ditches, wet savannas, and open swamps (where S. praecox grows). Also, S. sylvatica has flowers 10-17 mm (close to about 1/2-inch) long, as opposed to S. praecox flowers being 6-9 mm (around 1/3-inch) long. Note that both of these species have the green lines/veins on the top of the lip, which should rule out essentially all other Spiranthes species from consideration. Though it is tentatively called "rare", the fact that it has been recorded inland to Robeson County and as far north as Dare County, certainly it should be found in other Coastal Plain counties between these. In fact, as mentioned in Distribution, how many specimens labeled as S. praecox are really S. sylvatica?
Taxonomic CommentsThis is a rather recently described species. It never seems to have been listed as a variety of S. praecox, but was simply subsumed within it and overlooked as that widespread species.

Other Common Name(s)Pale-green Ladies'-tresses
State Rank[S1?]
Global RankGNR
State Status[W7]
US Status
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R. NewmanTHRO - 2021-05-25 CarteretBIPhoto_natural
R. NewmanTHRO - 2021-05-25 CarteretBIPhoto_natural
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