A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Autumn Lady's-tresses (Steve Townsend)Spotted at the end of last month, you may still be lucky and find the last blooms of this lovely, and relatively rare, member of the orchid family.
Photo: Steve Townsend


Scientific name: Spiranthes spirales

Conservation status: Vascular Plant Red Data Book: Near threatened.

What to look for:

Family: Orchidaceae (Orchid family)
Flowers: White, small and downy, arranged in spirals on 3 to 10 cm-long spikes. The flowers have a coconut scent.
Leaves and stem: The leaf rosette of oval grey-green leaves is adjacent to the stem rather than encircling it. Stem leaves cling to the stem like scales.
Height: 7 to 20 cm tall.
Where: Dunes and calcareous grasslands. Prefers short grass.
When: Flowers August to September.
Habit: Upright.

Autumn Lady's-tresses (Steve Townsend)The pretty spirals of Autumn Lady’s-tresses are a wonderful find as the summer closes. Spending the warmer months in dormancy, the underground tubers produce the flower stem from August into September. This member of the orchid family has a delicate disposition, though, and does not flower every year: it will definitely stay tucked up beneath the earth in harder years.

Autumn Lady's-tresses has an interesting life cycle. A leaf rosette is produced at the end of August and lasts through the winter and spring before dying back by the end of July. A flower stalk then grows, producing an inflorescence of the coconut-scented, green-throated white blooms, and one or two fresh leaf rosettes.

The plant relies on bees for pollination, and the fine seeds are then wind-dispersed.

Did you know...?

...This is one of the plant species that has declined due to agricultural intensification, with the most drastic losses occurring before the 1930s.

Autumn Lady's-tresses (Steve Townsend)

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora


Published: October 2016
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend

Find out about other plants you can see on the Lizard.