CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Spiranthes delitescens

Lynda Pritchett-Kozak

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Spiranthes delitescens

Common Names: 
Canelo Hills ladie's tresses, Madrean ladies tresses, Madrean ladies's tresses
Growth Habit: 
CPC Number: 


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Spiranthes delitescensenlarge
Photographer: Lynda Pritchett-Kozak

Spiranthes delitescens is Not Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Kathleen C. Rice contributed to this Plant Profile.

Spiranthes delitescens

Spiranthes delitescens is a slender, erect terrestrial orchid that can grow up to 50 cm in height. Plants have five to ten slender, grass-like leaves which grow basally on the stem. Roots are fleshy and swollen, about 5 mm in diameter. A twisted spike inflorescence may contain up to 40 white flowers and blooms in July. These orchids are generally short-lived, with an average longevity of 3 to 4 years. During severe drought, plants return to the heterotrophic condition.

There is anecdotal evidence that this species may actually require disturbance in order to become established. Since the seeds of orchids are without endosperm (stored nutrients) they need the perfect conditions for germination. Germination of such seeds is challenging, and must be conducted under sterile conditions on an agar media, to eliminate potential contamination and competition with fungal growth. However, because orchid seeds have no endosperm, they need mycorrhizae, soil-inhabiting fungi, to germinate. Mycorrhizae encourage germination by penetrating the orchid's seed coat and bringing water and nutrients to the embryo.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Spiranthes delitescens
  The habitat preferred by Spiranthes is a marshy wetland or cienega, intermingled with tall grasses and sedges, at elevations of 5000 ft (USFWS 1995 a & b, 1997).

  Of the four known occurrences within Arizona, three are privately owned and grazed (Newman 1990, USFWS 1997). The fourth site is owned by the Nature Conservancy (Sheviak 1990). Short term declines in numbers of individuals have been noted by The Nature Conservancy at two sites.

Number Left
  There are only four known populations in Santa Cruz County, AZ. This species may also occur in Mexico (Sheviak 1990).


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Arizona S1 8/1/2002  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Members of the Orchid family must form a symbiotic mycorrhizal relationship before nutrients can be absorbed (Luer 1975). The exact nature of these organisms in relation to Spiranthes delitescens must be taken into consideration when planning any ex situ work.

  Threats to Spiranthes include grazing, competition with Equisetum (horsetail), sedges, Johnson grass, and possibly fire suppression (Mclaran and Sundt 1992). Plants are nearly impossible to relocate in the vegetative state, as they grow among sedges and the leaves are linear.

Current Research Summary
  Seeds have been collected by Desert Botanical Garden in the past and sent to a tissue culture specialist in Cincinnati, Ohio. From thousands of seeds, only seven plants were generated. Eventually all but one plant died, and the remaining plant was severely stunted. It flowered, then died. Although the plant was being grown in soil taken from its native habitat, apparently no fungal mutualism had taken place.

Current Management Summary
  Since three of the four known occurrences in the U.S. are privately owned by ranchers, it is unknown if those populations are receiving any protective consideration. The Nature Conservancy owns the marsh on which one site is located. Detailed studies of this site are conducted annually, and a full-time caretaker lives on site. Neighbors on both sides of this tract have initiated measures that would drain water away from the marsh. Trenches have been dug and pipes laid with the sole purpose of draining away 'excess' water to increase carrying capacity for grazing animals, and ease of access.

Research Management Needs
  Management needs include riparian water guidelines and general habitat protection. Research needs include understanding mutualistic relationships and their impact on reproduction.

Monitoring Efforts
  Not Available

Ex Situ Needs
  Investigation into seed storage requirements, germination requirements, and horticultural information is critical. Additional collection of seed is also necessary.


Books (Single Authors)

Arditti, J. 1982. Orchid biology, reviews, and perspectives. Ithaca, NY.: Cornell University Press. 390p.

Dressler, R. 1981. The Orchids: Natural History and Classification. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press. 332p.

Kartesz, J.T. 1993. Species distribution data for vascular plants of 70 geographical areas, from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Kartesz, J.T. 1996. Species distribution data at state and province level for vascular plant taxa of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (accepted records), from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Luer, C.A. 1975. The native orchids of the United States and Canada excluding Florida. New York: The New York Botanical Garden. 361p.

Rutman, S. 1992. Handbook of Arizona's endangered, threatened, and candidate plants. Phoenix, Arizona: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Van der Pijl, L.; Dodson, C. 1966. Orchid flowers: Their pollination and evolution. Coral Gables, Florida: Unversity of Miami Press. 214p.

Books (Sections)

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Sanford, W. 1974. The ecology of orchids. In: Withner, C., editor. The orchids, scientific studies. John Wiley & Sons. New York, NY. p 1-101.

Stoutamire, W. 1974. Terrestrial orchid seedlings. In: Withner, C., editor. The Orchids, scientific studies. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. p 101-128.

Warcup, J. 1975. Factors affecting symbiotic germination of orchid seed. In: Sanders, F. ; Mosse, B. ; Tinker, P., editors. Endomycorrhizeas. Academic Press. London, England. p 87-105.

Wells, T. 1981. Population ecology of terrestrial orchids. In: Synge, H., editor. The biological aspects of rare plant conservation. John Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. p 181-195.

Electronic Sources

(2000). Center for Plant Conservation's National Living Collection--Profiles. Desert Botanical Garden. http://www.dbg.org/Collections/cpc.html. Accessed: 2002.

Arizona Game and Fish Department. (1999). Plant Abstracts. Compiled and edited by the Heritage Data Management System, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, AZ. http://www.gf.state.az.us/frames/fishwild/hdms_site/Abstracts/Plants/abstracts%20-%20plants.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Catling, P. 1982. Breeding systems of northeastern North American Spiranthes. Canadian Journal of Botany. 60: 3017-3034.

Catling, P.; Catling, V. 1988. Spiranthes nebulorum a new species from southern Mexico and Guatemala. Rhodora. 90: 139-146.

Curtis, J. 1946. Use of mowing in management of white ladyslipper. Journal of Wildlife Management. 10, 4: 303-308.

Fonseca, J. 1992. Southwestern Rare and Endangered Plant Conference. The Plant Press. 16: 6-7.

McClaran, M.P.; Sundt, P.C. 1992. Population Dynamics of the Rare Orchid, Spiranthes delitescens. Southwestern Naturalist. 37, 3: 299-303.

Sheviak, C. 1974. An Introduction to the Ecology of the Illinois Orchidaceae. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers. XIV: 89.

Sheviak, C.J. 1984. Spiranthes diluvialis (Orchidaceae), a new species from the western United States. Brittonia. 36: 8-14.

Sheviak, C.J. 1990. A new Spiranthes (Orchidaceae) from the cienegas of southernmost Arizona. Rhodora. 92, 872: 213-231.

USFWS. 1995. Proposal to determine endangered status for three wetland species found in southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Federal Register. 60, 63: 16836-16846.

USFWS. 1995. Reopening of Comment Period and Notice of Public Hearing on Proposed Endangered Status for Three Wetland Species in Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora. Federal Register. 60, 120: 32483-32484.

USFWS. 1997. Determination of endangered status for three wetland species found in southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Federal Register. 62, 3: 665-689.

Wells, T. 1967. Changes in a population of Spiranthes spiralis Chevall. at Knocking Hoe National Nature Reseve, Bedfordshire, 1962-65. Journal of Ecology. 55: 83-89.

Williams, L. 1951. The Orchidaceae of Mexico. Cieba. 2: 1-132.

Personal Communications

Rice, K. March 28, 1996. Spiranthes delitescens. Letter to Benidicte Sirot, Center for Plant Conservation.


2002. General Species Information. Phoenix, Arizona: Arizona Ecological Services Field Office.

Bender, J. 1986. Element stewardship abstract for Cypripedium candidum. Minneapolis, MN: The Nature Conservancy. Midwest Regional Office.

Fishbein, M.; Gori, D.F. 1992. The effect of prescribed burns on the composition and structure of Cienega vegetation, with special emphasis on the Canelo Hills ladies' tresses orchid, Spiranthes delitescens: post-burn responses. Tucson, Arizona: The Nature Conservancy. Unpublished.

Newman, D. 1990. Spiranthes delitescens status report. Prepared for the USDI Fish and Service, Phoenix, Arizona by The Nature Conservancy, Tucson.


Fernald, A. 1987. Plant community ecology of two desert marshes in southeastern Arizona. [M.A. Thesis]: University of Colorado, Boulder. Boulder, CO.

  This profile was updated on 7/15/2013
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