Autumn lady's-tresses Spiranthes spiralis

Status Amber - Vulnerable and Near-Threatened
Best Time to See August, September, October
Colour Green
Habitat Grassland, Heathland

A stunning, delicate orchid, whose individual white blooms grow in a near-perfect spiral and are tightly packed against one another round the short stem.

In Flora Brittanica (1996) Richard Mabey elegantly expresses its appearance, saying: 'the spike has the look of a sea-creature, or an ivory ornament, turned on a lathe', whilst Geoffrey Grigson lyrically compares them to a braid of the Virgin's hair.

Distribution

From south Devon to as far north as Yorkshire.

Habitat

The plant crops up locally in short grassland as well as damp slacks. It has a preference for short turf and therefore is often found on garden lawns. Across the chalklands of Hampshire, Sussex and Kent it has almost become suburban: on one East Sussex lawn alone, over three thousand orchids have been recorded.

Dry grassy places, meadows, garigue, pine woodland, and generally on calcareous soils. Rarely on less acidic heathland.

Status

Near-threatened

Conservation

The first principle is to enable the establishment of new habitats by managing the hydrology. It must not be too dry nor too moist. Owing to its low competitive strength, the soil must be moderate poor in nutrients, and eutrophication should be avoided. Acidification must be avoided e.g. by raising the groundwater table slightly or by removing the acid humus layer since Autumn lady's-tresses grow best in soils that are not acid. So that optimal moisture is present, it is important to retain or restore the small scale relief on sandy soil.

Mowing and grazing e.g. by sheep and cattle is beneficial to keep the vegetation sufficiently short. Cuttings can be scattered from existing locations, in order to create new sites and to encourage establishment in their vicinity.

Did you know?

It is known locally in Hampshire and Yorkshire as Lady's traces.

It can grow as thickly as grass. 1992 was a boom year - that summer a front lawn in West Sussex sported 672 spike in about 230 yards square.

Whilst Autumn lady's-traces were not often used in physic, the 16th Century naturalist William Turner commented that 'the full and sappy rootes of Ladie traces eaten or boiled in milke and drunke, provoke venery, nourish and strengthen the bodie, and be good for such as are fallen into a consumption or fever Hectique'.



It bryngeth forth whyte floures in the ende of harveste, and it is called Lady traces

William Turner (1548)