Flora of the Week--Spiranthes Odorata
Photo above: deceptive. The orchid in question does NOT have fern leaves.
In the picture to the left, you see a plant that blooms in the fall, loves wet feet, is fragrant, will grow in any sun but full (as long as it has decent dirt), reaches up to two feet tall under normal circumstances and will replicate itself prolifically, making it easy to cultivate. Sound like any orchid you've ever heard of? Me neither. But Marsh Lady's Tresses is a type of orchid, native to the southeastern United States--endangered in Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee.
Spiranthes Odorata spreads in two ways: it self-sows, and it is stoloniferous (like strawberries, ajuga, mint and lamb's ear). This makes it a terrific acquisition as a single plant if you wish to start a colony in a damp, shady spot. Ours is in full shade, in soil that is periodically quite moist. If you find Marsh Lady's Tresses in the wild--and the name should give you a clue--these plants are a good indicator of wetlands, so even if the land is dry when you find it, chances are that land is not usually dry.
The stem of spiranthes spirals slightly. You can see some good pictures of that feature here. Its flowers erupt from sheaths all the way up the stem. While a single stem is not visually very exciting, this is a plant that will have a tremendous impact in the fall once it has been allowed to colonize. Next year about this time I will be looking to see what insects or birds are making use of the plant (besides the spider hiding beneath the bottom bloom facing left!).
I suspect that spiranthes will be happy in a rain garden, provided it doesn't receive full sun. Once ours has had a chance to spread, I'll give that a shot. In the meantime, I want to give it every opportunity to take hold and make itself at home.