little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see I will comfort you because you smell so sweetly…
-e. e. cummings
Abies balsamea, balsam fir is familiar as the traditional, fragrant, Christmas tree among many people. The human nose can detect thousands of different odors – a whiff of the ocean, freshly cut grass, vanilla, coffee, lilacs, roses, – but many of us experience distinct emotions, reaching back to childhood memories of Christmas when smelling a balsam fir. To quote Helen Keller (1880-1968), “Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.” (more…)
Scientific identification of plants was dramatically changed and formalized by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) when he successfully introduced the concept of binomial classification: each thing would have just two-names in Latin. However, since that historic era in the 1750’s, periodic revisions have occurred, even until today, resulting in accepted botanical changes. One example involves the genus Cupressus, cypress which in Linnaeus’s time included some plants different than today. In the 1840’s,updated analysis created the new genus of Chamaecyparis, False-cypress, from within the latter. Another example of such a change from Linnaeus’ time led to the creation on the genus Tsuga, hemlock from within the then larger genus Pinus, pine.(more…)
We highlight the genus Spiranthes, with its common name of Ladies Tresses. This is a genus presently with about 30 worldwide species of terrestrial perennials occurring in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, north Africa and Australia. These perennial orchids can be and have been perplexing to taxonomists. Their list of common names, each with differing accompanying Latin names include nodding ladies tresses, fragrant ladies tresses, slender ladies tresses, hooded ladies tresses, woodland ladies tresses, marsh ladies tresses, little ladies tresses, grass-leaved ladies tresses, lacelip ladies tresses, long lipped ladies tresses, spring ladies tresses, summer ladies tresses, autumn ladies tresses, reclusive ladies tresses, Appalachian ladies tresses, great plains ladies tresses, Atlantic ladies tresses, Nepalese ladies tresses, etc.
We quote from orchid authority, Robert L. Dressler in his The Orchids: Natural History and Classification, “In our present state of knowledge, no classification can be the final word.
A classification should be viewed both as a hypothesis to be tested with new information and, ideally, as a guide in search for new information…”. One example of this floristic transitoriness comes close to home for us with Spiranthes grayi, Gray’s ladies tresses, named as a species, in the early twentieth-century by Harvard University’s renowned orchid expert, Oakes Ames (1874-1950). He named this to honor the earlier notable Harvard botanist, Asa Gray (1810-1888), namesake of our Asa Gray Garden and buried on Holly Path. However, with advanced analysis this species status was rescinded, combined within Spiranthes tuberosa as var. grayi.
Taxonomy aside, October is the time to seek out the delicate, fragrant, small flowers of our native and rare Spiranthes odorata, Marsh Ladies Tresses. During this commencement of autumn, asters and goldenrods may attract much more attention throughout our landscape, but we turn to Emily Dickinson to capture the delight of aficionados of these rare and eye-catching plants.
If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
Spiranthes odorata, Marsh Ladies Tresses are recognizable by their unique vertical rows of tiny flowers (as with many of the differing species within the genus), sometimes braided spirally around their 8-18-inch, unbranched stems. Each flower, slightly curved downward, is about 1/3-inch long, with 3 white petals and 3 white sepals. The etymology comes from Greek speira meaning spiral or twisted and anthos meaning flower. Odorata of course alludes to fragrance.
Bumblebees, Bombus sp., are the most frequent pollinators of Ladies Tresses.
…As the fainting bee,
Reaching late his flower
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars-enters,
And is lost in balms!
On an early autumn visit to Mount Auburn look for Spiranthes odorata, Marsh Ladies Tresses, and maybe a few bumblebees, at the Gardner Tomb on Oxalis Path.
Withered orchids scatter the highroad as the officer rides away
Heaven itself will wither in pity…
…I desire that you would remember the ladies,
and be more generous and favorable
to them than your ancestors…
What’s in Bloom: Week of November 6, 2023
Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Hazel Path
Autumn Joy sedum, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, @ flagpole
Mum, Chrysanthemum sp., several locations
‘Knockout rose’, Rosa ‘Radrazz’, Spelman Rd.
Rose, Rosa sp., several locations
Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis, Pine Ave.
Aster, Aster tartaricus, Asa Gray garden
Aster, Aster ageratoides ‘Eso Murasaki’, Asa Gray garden
Snapdragon, Antirrhinum sp., Greenhouse garden
Strawflower, Xerochrysum bracteatum, Greenhouse garden
Cosmos, Cosmos sp., Greenhouse garden
Mexican sunflower, Tithonia sp., Greenhouse garden
Marigold, Tagetes sp., Greenhouse garden
Azalea, Rhododendron ‘Lemon Lights’, Halcyon Ave.
Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, Azalea Path
Bee blossom, Gaura lindheimeri, Ash Ave.
Search our online plant collections database with Flora Mount Auburn.