Hooded Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana)
We stumbled across this fen of Ladies Tress orchids in the moist alpine meadows of Mt. Hood’s north side in late August. The intricately laced spiral of charming white flowers rises just a few inches above the ground. As with the related but larger White Bog Orchid, viewed from afar the plants glowing white stalks trace the wettest outlines of the meadow. The plants are nearly indistinguishable, as far as we can tell, from Western Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia).
The common name reflects the flower’s resemblance to tightly braided ladies’ hair, and its scent of cloves and vanilla furthers the enchantment. The latin makes reference to the coil (speira) as well as the Russian Count Romanzoff (1754-1826), who as Minister of Commerce strongly supported various Russian voyages of scientific discovery in the early 1800s, including one to Alaska.
This is one of only a handful of the orchid family native to the Pacific Northwest woods. Mark Turner in his book Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest notes 22 species, half of which we’ve posted here. Orchids are a uniquely shaped flower consisting of 3 sepals and 3 petals, with the upper two petals fused to form a hood or bonnet shape, and the lower petal forming a lip.