Creeping Lady's Tresses
- Name also: Lesser Rattlesnake Plantain, Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain, Creeping Ladies’ Tresses
- Family: Orchid Family – Orchidaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock horizontal, close to the surface, branched. Forms stands, also abundantly as a flowerless rosette.
- Height: 10–30 cm (4–12 in.). Stem light green, hairy.
- Flower: Perianth irregular (zygomorphic), yellowish white, 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in.) long, hairy. Tepals 6, in 2 whorls, of which one elaborated into labellum. Labellum under perianth, spurless, concave, tapered. Androecium and gynoecium fused into a column, stamens 1, stigmas 2. Inflorescence a one-sided spike. Flower fragrant.
- Leaves: In basal rosette, stalked–stalkless, overwintering, upper half of stem with only scaly leaves. Blade elliptic–lanceolate, net-veined, with entire margin, thickish.
- Fruit: Capsule, seeds tiny, like dust.
- Habitat: Old mossy coniferous forests, swamps, also birch woods.
- Flowering time: July–August.
Creeping lady’s tresses is a coniferous forest species and is one of our more common orchids. It has however declined during this period of intensive forestry: with its white stars shining on the shady forest floor, it is one of the least seen forest herbs and its root won’t grow in a forest that is less than a century old. Only when the moss cover is sufficiently thick to protect its delicate creeping roots will it start to thrive. The species is one of Finland’s only clearly old forest-loving vascular plants. Due to its small size it also often goes unnoticed. It is perhaps usually noticed by berry-gatherers because it raises its white inflorescence from the moss just around the same time that blueberries are ripe. On closer inspection, the flowers on its one-sided spiked inflorescence are hairy and have a cloying fragrance.
Despite being quite common, not much is known about creeping lady’s tresses’ pollinators. Obviously the most important pollinators are bees, and dance flies might also play a part. In any case pollination seems to succeed well, especially for an orchid: almost all of creeping lady’s tresses’ flowers produce seed capsules. Like other orchids its seeds are tiny, weighing only around 0.000002 g each. Such light seeds make it possible for creeping lady’s tresses to colonise new habitats a long way away. It is necessary to travel large distances because forest fires, clear cutting and other disturbances almost always destroys creeping lady’s tresses, and despite profuse vegetative propagation, moving with runners is very slow. The seeds lack endosperm, which would nourish them in their initial stage of life, so to develop further they need the help of a fungus. At first the fungus only nourishes the seeds by providing nutrients and water, but later the relationship becomes more symbiotic: the mushroom gives the plant minerals and water and receives sugars and other nutrition. This symbiotic relationship lasts as long as the plant lives.