Information on Autumn Lady's-tresses

Common Name: Autumn Lady's-tresses
Scientific Name: Spiranthes spiralis
Irish Name: Cúilín Muire
Family Group: Orchidaceae
Distribution: View Map (Courtesy of the BSBI)
Flowering Period


Click for list of all flowering by month
Autumn Lady's-tresses is not easily confused with other wild plants on this web site.


This is a very handsome little plant, beautifully designed to have its spike of flowers arranged in a spiral pattern up the stem.  Each little flower is pure white and fragrant, the lower lip or labellum is greenish and is hardly any longer than the other petals. The flower does not have a spur. The spike is rarely higher than 15cm high and often shorter.  The basal rosette of oval leaves are usually withered before the grey-green flower stem appears.  There are a few scale-like leaves up this stem. The spiral is made of a straight, single row of flowers which is twisted, the lower ones being the first to flower.  As its name suggests, this plant flowers from early August to the end of September.  It is a native plant belonging to the family Orchidaceae.

I first noticed this little plant growing close to the sea at Rath, Co Kerry in 1977.  I was very lucky to see it again in 2008 at Ballyteigue where I photographed it.  Roy Watson of the Wexford Naturalists Field Club had suggested to me where I might find it for which many thanks to Roy.   

If you are satisfied you have correctly identified this plant, please submit your sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre

Lady's-tresses, Autumn
Lady's-tresses, Autumn

This species is classed as NEAR THREATENED in the Red Data List of Vascular Plants 2016.

Just at the time when the best of the summer's plants are dying off and thoughts turn to cooler days and nights, this little plant appears.  It's a very small plant and it takes quite a time to find it even when you have an idea of where to look.  It likes to face the sunshine so can be found where the grass is not too long, on dry sand-based turf, along with declining Birdsfoot trefoil, Centaury and Storksbill.  Once you see your first one, the rest will be easier to find.  Good luck.

To learn more about our Irish orchids, I would heartily recommend a really superb book on the subject which is published by the Collins Press and entitled 'Ireland's Wild Orchids - a field guide'. 

Each of our native orchids is beautifully illustrated by the gifted botanical artist, Susan Sex and is an exquisite representation of an amazing plant; Susan's illustrations are complemented by carefully-chosen words from our National Botanic Gardens orchid specialist, Brendan Sayers. Susan's illustrations of key features of our native orchids are extremely useful when trying to identify a species and Brendan's descriptions help to broaden one's understanding of this complex and intriguing subject, and lead one nearer to making a possible identification. He also contributes information on the conservation of these magnificent little plants and gives details of where they might be found. Please seek out this masterpiece from your usual bookseller or find it on http://www.collinspress.ie/irelands-wild-orchids.html