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Spiranthes Reproduction Loughs Cullin and Conn: The Spiranthes in mind is Spiranthes romanzoffiana, a rare but very well represented Orchid here in these lakes in mid Summer.
To ENLARGE an Image CLICK where you see this symbol.

WildWest.ie has just completed another exhaustive survey of 3 of the

major lakes in Mayo for the abundance and distribution of Spiranthes

romanzoffiana  in this region. The Results  to date are 660 living plants.

So where do old plants and new plant come from? Spiranthes romanzoffiana  has two ways to survive, vegetative reproduction at a local level where a plant generates another stem (i.e lateral bud) which is initially an offshoot from the parent plant but then goes on to develop roots, a new flowering stem in the following year and then a clump of up to 4 flowering spikes all flowering and capable of reproduction. New Plants originate from seed. This can come from either Irish plants (rare!) or from wind-borne stocks from other countries. i.e. USA and Canada.). Such seed sown plans can be recognised by an occurrence reflecting water placement. i.e.  a circular pattern suggesting either a small pool or a curved linear pattern (parallel to and existing coast where the species occurs.

Spiranthes Reproduction study.

Because of an exceptional dry Summer and Autumn, we are taking the opportunity to further investigate the renewal of this orchid population. Firstly, this will be done by observing maturation of flowering, seed pod formation, closure of ovaries and the development of bands around the ovary to facilitate ‘springing’ of the seeds, etc. This is all assuming that our ‘Indian Summer’ continues a bit longer?

Photo Gallery of Developing Ovaries in S. romanzoffiana  at L. Cullin

Each island is listed in Roman Numerals and the number (1 - 3) of suitable flowering/seeding specimens used for study are listed as Specimens 1 -10. Benign weather conditions enabled us to gather 5 images for each of the 10 specimens studied. The persisting  long Indian Summer gave us access to all specimens until early October — a very unusual event in west Mayo! Don’t be alarmed at the small size of the initial Images; you may be able to set your monitor to a larger display but a much bigger version of Column 5 Images is available at the Click of a Mouse, as indicated by the Hand Lens symbol on those images!

Commencement of Data collection 2022

The Spiranthes Reproduction project and the beginning of the collection of Data (Photographic) started on the 28th August and we estimate it will continue until early October — or as long as the weather stays dry. We are defining specific habitats and within them 1 or more Spiranthes worth observing.

Specimen 2: Pirri

III. West Island Located to the west of Pointy island and southwest of Pyramid (see image at top). The Specimen is on the south side of the island. This is a small island with grass, herbs and small Myrtle bushes with little grassy outcrops to west and south. This island has four other Spiranthes, ‘Westie’ was chosen as it had better development of ovaries, which were a very glossy green with strong ridges as can be seen in Image 1 (BELOW).
IV. Bounty Island Larger, oval shaped island SSW of Pyramid.  This has good grass, Myrtle and rush/reed cover with 13 Spiranthes plants scattered around the island. 3 specimens have been selected from Bounty Island Fletch, Pitcairn and Christy  (Please forgive the quirkiness!). Fletch is on the north side, near the edge and slightly east of centre line. Capsules are fairly big, developing good ridges.

Specimen 7: Lou

V. Reedy Island Bigger island than Bounty Island; Vegetation is fairly high, many reeds, but only two Spiranthes were found growing here. The first specimen, ‘Lou’ is on the northeast side. The flowers were nearly all withered, but the ovaries were a very glossy green and had strong ridges (‘seams’ where seeds will burst out when ripe). There was a pronounced bulge between ovary and remains of flower, perhaps a good indication that the capsule is developing seeds.  

Specimen 9: Banksy

VI. Highbank Island Large ‘island’ extending towards the west of the site, and towards the fenced boundary between beach and adjoining field, which is usually grazed by cattle. Banksy is growing on the northern side of this island, about 1m in from the edge of the bank. Betty is on the Southwest of the island.
II. Pyramid Island Pyramid Island  is a very well marked location with a pyramidal  erratic forming the shield behind which a large sandbank/island has developed over the past 10 years. Now overgrown, there was only one noteworthy Spiranthes to be studied. In line with our naming strategy, we have named all specimens after their ‘home’. This makes it much easier to identify a plant over, perhaps, 2 months as it goes into its reproductive phase.

Specimen 6: Christy

Some questions that arise as we study these orchids…  •	Is there a difference between large and small plants with regard to fertilisation and development of seeds? •	Is the warm weather the main factor in such good capsule development this year, or could the cold weather in late June be a factor also? •	Do the plants that have good capsule (and seed) development also develop lateral buds (asexual reproduction)? That is, can the plant reproduce both sexually and vegetatively in one season?  •	Do all the plants that don’t appear to develop seeds (very few) go on to produce lateral buds — or multiple lateral buds? •	How does the weather this year compare with the weather in 2018 — the first year we saw seed development in Spiranthes at Lough Cullin?


Hoping for a late Autumn we have sought to identify all Spiranthes from all locations that are showing various features of the changes that occur to Spiranthes flowers at this time of year. This involved recognising habitats that would not flood when modest rain comes and which can be accessible at all stages up to complete flooding. It is hard to believe that the picture we reproduce BELOW will be flooded to the tip of the islands and the tree-lined shore in the background. But, Hey, we are watching the Water Level Record on a daily basis and we can know when to drop everything and head west.
If you are out-and-about around Loughs Conn and Cullin and happen to come across any surviving Irish Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) do see if you can identify any seeds emerging from bulging striped ovaries, or small stems emerging beside existing plants… do let us know using the Contact US facility ABOVE
28th August Pirri is a strong plant  with most flowers looking fertile. All capsules are sealed tight but with longitudinal bands clearly visible. These 3 bands are seen as ridges running up the height of the ovary. They have a role later in causing the capsule to split open and thus release the seeds… 
3rd September Capsules remain intact and sturdy with no sign of splitting. The zone between the capsule and the old flower is distinct  at ‘shear zones’ where the living tissue is separated from the dead tissue. The flowers wither and die but the rest of the plant remains strong and healthy.
12th September Capsules larger, especially halfway up the flowering spike. Lower capsules are not developing well and may die? The white collar between capsule and bottom of the flower is less distinct colour- wise and a sharp kink forms below the old flower  giving the appearance of a ‘pot belly’.

Specimen 1: Pointy

28th August A very small plant with 3 flowers at top with c.6 capsules (pods) develop- ing ridges. Growing in an exposed area and being alone on this island, this plant may have dried out earlier or be in a less fertile substrate. The 4th image in this row shows how small and weak this specimen was.
3rd September Pointy was thriving at this stage with 10 or more capsules fertilised and growing, protected by the bracts which seem to have a role in keeping the developing ovaries and capsules safe. The shear zones have turned white and the flower remnants are losing nutrients and drying up.
12th September This plant is developing quickly in an unusual and hot September morn. For some reason (early fertilisation?) 1 or 2 of the capsules have opened up and some seeds have been released with some still visible through the split on the brown capsule. Other capsules above and below are still intact.

Specimen3: Westie

Specimen 4: Fletch

28th August This is our first plant from Bounty Island — chosen for its large capsules. Because of the long Summer, plants were flowering over a longer period; this is one of the later flowering Spiranthes on Drummin Strand with only lower capsules starting to enlarge.

Specimen 5: Pitcairn

28th August This is Olli, the second specimen from Reedy Island, growing at the edge of reeds and looking a bit vulnerable and exposed. It will be the first to be flooded as water levels rise at L. Cullin It was a sturdy plant with many dark green developing capsules showing at this time.
3rd September Flowers are closing down but the rest of the plant remains strong with the white  zone kinking in the process of shedding the now redundant flowers that were so spectacular in early August. Capsules are expanding but still remain intact and seeds are not yet ready to be released
18th September A large view of this image shows that the vertical bands are lifting off the body of the capsule which prepares it for seeding. One band (2nd from bottom) has started to  dry out with a view to splitting the capsule. All nodes (as indic- ated by the bracts) show capsules one can expect to open in a week or two…

Specimen 10: Betty

28th August Green stems at this time of year marks the loss of flowers but active growth in capsule change and maturation. These plants are very much alive in this phase, though many flowers are withering. Lower bracts are falling away but the upper bracts are very close to their developing capsules.
3rd September Early stage in the loss of flowers starts with the distinctive white band between old and new organs. When this band appears the flowers rapidly wither but the pod remains healthy and well nourished. It is wonderful to observe these changes and the steps to final seed release.
12th September All flowers are now brow, revealing the ever more bent shear zone and the dead flower attach- ed —but now totally withered. Capsules are sturdy with clearly develop- ed bands or ridges not yet brown. This was a late flowering specimen. Bracts shelter capsules at the top of the flower but drooped at the fatter lower pods.
12th September A fuller view of Banksy’s flowering head shows almost every axillary niche has led to a develop- ing seed pod. This is satisfying as in our survey work Bees and other fertilisers were notably scarce. The weather was hot and insects may have flown later in the evening. (Most of our work was around midday!)
24th September In this section of stem several pods are now cracking open and able to release seed. The stem is sturdy and dark green; a healthy sign but weather and light also plays a role. These ovaries have matured and the capsules are brown with 1 or 2 pods starting to split open… yet more rare plants for us to cherish!
28th August Poor little Betty who struggled in life but finally was fruitful. This first photograph showed many well filled capsules with this specimen ahead of many other specimens in this review. This specimen was a very delicate plant at first but recovered well during the season.
3rd September A week later and little has changed. This was during a very dry period when Irish weather would normally be cooler and wetter with Autumn rain. Despite lack of rain these plants seemed well hydrated and may have been getting water in evening mists or from close underground.
12th September Betty seems to be stretching and growing but — as seen in other plants — it may be a period  of intensive seed production. The numbers of seeds these plants create, the majority of which are fertile, is incredible; it seems that there may be a lull at this time when activity is restricted within the tightly sealed capsules?
18th September The specimen now looks more mature with variation in the size of the capsules, some more bulbous than others, all swelling and enlarging . What was a weakly plant seems to have grown stronger as the seeds mature. Spiranthes are perennial plants so this specimen may recover and flower again next year?


The area Below is the NW corner of a Drummin Bay near where the low water level (0.34m) dries out a large area of flat sand with many islands and rocks and reeds on most of the waters edge where the depth is sufficient for these to survive… The large Image is part of one single photograph which conveniently defines most of the locations of the Study Area in Drummin Bay. The HIGHBANK image (Left) is a separate image placed roughly where the sandbank is located relative to the other 5 sites. This gives an overall geographic view of the habitat and the location (using Names) of where  the study specimens occur. The names in order are Pointy, Pyramid, West, Bounty, Reedy and Highbank. Each island has its own individual or group of selected orchids. This makes it easier for us to locate maturing Orchids for photographing and monitoring their changing condition of maturing Ovaries and Seeds and then, later, recording the presence or absence of lateral buds — this species’ way of vegetative reproduction.
I. Pointy Island Pointy Island is a slightly raised area between rocky islands in the bay and reed beds to the East with patchy grass, no bushes  or reeds. It is located about 3m to the south of Pyramid Island. Specimen ‘Pointy’ is  growing on the south side. The specimen selected was an example of a small scattering of single orchids growing on their own on dry flat exposed sandy areas throughout the Bay. NB:All images are of the same plant BUT on different days.
18th September LEFT: Quite a change in 6 days with most of the capsules split open along the line of the ridges which bind the ovary together and then seem to explode as the bands dry out and separate from the barrel like capsule.
18th September Three strong ridges are clear on all fertile ovaries on the flower spike. The specimen remains strong with good growth on the plant and capsules, with the evident pressure of the developing seeds inside the capsules — but no bands lifting or pulling the ‘seed barrel’ apart just yet.
24th September 6 days later and ‘Pirri’ has started to dry up and the seed capsules have become brittle. The 3 bands holding the ovaries together are now brittle and as they dry out they open up the pods along weak zones under the bands allowing seeds to spill out… Seeds can now blow or fall away.
24th September The same ovary  6 days later in close-up, showing important elements in the reproduction of this species, ovary, seed bed and seeds. The capsule is in tatters with the 3 parts resembling staves on a barrel falling apart as the ‘barrel’ falls open.
28th August Westie is a very sturdy plant with densely packed whorls of flowers, now seed pods. This plant clearly shows the spiral pattern from which Spiranthes gets its name. At this stage the capsules are packed  tight together. Still flowering at the top, all the lower ovaries are fertile and swelling with seeds.
3rd September Taken from a different angle this shows the amount of capsules some Spiranthes can produce and the vast numbers of fertile seeds that plants  can distribute in a long season. Due to a warm dry Summer and a moist strand area, many specimens are also still in flower as lower buds  continue to grow their seeds.
12th September 9 days later and the action has turned to the upper plant with no flowers blooming and upper capsules now also fertilised. The vast majority of plants examined seem to have fertile capsules now! Lower capsules are static as the upper capsules flourish. But all have brown ‘beards’ marking an end to flowering.
18th September Most nutrition seems to go to the top of the plant as lower seed pods remain tight and green, possibly indicating a delay in seed growth? However, the upper capsules are strong and turgid with 1 or 2 capsules starting the process of hardening up and then cracking along longitudinal bands.
24th September Westie is a very fecund plant with signs of all capsules maturing along the length of the flower. Most of the seed pods have now burst open with the bands arching above capsules and ‘tearing them apart’. Large bundles of seeds, and some loose ones can be seen in the lower part of this image.
3rd September Six days later we want to show the full flowering head where more of the flowers have withered. On the  lower part of the stem the capsules are all thickening up and looking very fertile.
12th September The interesting thing about this image is that the flowering elements (petals and sepals) are being discard- ed at most points on the stem where the old flowers are brown and dying. Above the white ‘shear’ zone flowers are dying. Below this, the capsules are strong and green and full of developing seeds!
24th September Eventually the flowers have all been replaced with swelling capsules This is a good example of a plant growing strongly after flowering. All or most of the ovaries seem to be active but, as yet, none of the capsules are ready to release seeds.
2nd October This view of Fletch was taken from the opposite side to the previous image. These orchids often adopt a spiral image, others may have 3 rows of flowers more or less un-rotated. This last view of this plant shows more bracts but the lower capsules are opening and starting to release seeds.
28th August The top of Pitcairn is still in flower but below this it seems as if there was a sudden transfer of ‘sap’ from the flower to the ovary. Is this a distinct function of the ‘white collar’ developing at this time between the dying flower and the thriving caps- ule?  This feature is visible on nearly all images in 2nd and 3rd columns!
3rd September Another view , 6 days later, of this specimen showing how the seed capsules remain very well nourished. As the flowers die they droop and a pronounced downward kink develops which seems to be an aid in sealing off the capsules below. Its location is on the south side of Bounty Island.
12th September Little change on Pitcairn after a significant dry period. Apart from the flowers at the top, all other flowers have drooped. Capsule bands are not as prominent yet, as on other specimens and all capsules remain green. This may be a slow developing specimen perhaps affected by drought?
18th September All flowers closed down — but very active support for bracts, capsules (some ripening) and stem. We have never (over 16 years of studying this plant) seen so many orchids surviving so well into late September. They are usually flooded by this stage and that diminishes any chances of releasing seed.
24th September Such a change in 6 days; numerous capsules on this specimen now open with capsule bands lifting off the seed pods and abundant seeds now visible inside and on other parts of the plant. (ENLARGE to see) All these images are taken without touching the plant and any seeds examined are loose seeds.
Column 5: RIGHT     ENLARGE these Images to see  further detail.
28th August Christy, the third specimen on Bounty Island is a tall plant with a few flowers at its top. Below this, there are about 20 elongated capsules developing which are quite tall and strong. This plant is growing on the south west side of Bounty Island. We hope to find it here again next year?
3rd September The flowers of this specimen are now all withered with each one beginning to show a ‘kink’ between flower and capsule. The ridges, or bands, are not very evident yet, especially on the lower part of this plant.
12th September The long capsules are developing good raised ridges, where the capsule will burst open when fully ripe. The capsules all appear to be quite tightly tucked in along the length of the stem, Soldier like, and have a green bract to shelter them. If they had been more spaced out, would capsule development have been poorer?
18th September A view of the full plant showing the many capsules developing well… perhaps not quite as advanced as some other specimens.
2nd October Our last visit to Drummin Bay, and Christy still has its tight formation along the stem. Most capsules have now split open and seeds can be seen inside. Seeds lodge on the sheltering bracts, old flowers, other capsules, etc. These seeds can be seen by loading the large file or by viewing with a Monitor set to 500% view
28th August The ideal time for observing these plants in Ireland is mid-July to mid- August. For the purpose of this reproductive study the end of August and all of September are key periods. All Irish Spiranthes occur around lakes; In many years of observation such a long dry Autumn period is very rare.
3rd September Another tall straight well formed Spiranthes as can be seen from the last column. Lou is producing many capsules each with its protective bract. Change is slow at this time but the initial fertilising and formation of a seed capsule is proceeding into a mature but healthy plant
12th September The lowest ovary has a‘kinked’ pattern seen in strong specimens. Perhaps it’s due to pressure of the bulging capsule and a prerequisite to cutting off nutrients to flowers? Directly above this there is a split capsule with seeds inside. Along with Pointy, this is the earliest we have seen split capsules & seeds!
18th September Concerns about fertilisation do not seem to be real and this plant has many  ovaries that appear to be  fertilised and developing well. Sometimes the lower capsules can be slower to develop than the upper ones but these seed pods catch up as flower- ing terminates and all appear to ripen together.
2nd October The last visit was delayed until today as we wanted to see how much of a large spike would be productive. This image does show many opening pods and abundant seed within them probably ready for release onto the ground, or into the air (where they can travel huge distances), or into water.

Specimen 8: Olli

24th September Like the specimen above, Lou, a week’s wait has worked wonders and all capsules are mature, brown in colour, released from their braces and shedding seed through the 3 slits in most of the capsules. Seeds are now visible on seed beds within the capsules. Use full magnification to show this!
2nd October Vast numbers of seeds are released in L. Cullin/Conn. These seeds may land on dry sand, gentle flooding allowing access to richer soils below, creating a soft bed where they can interact with funguses to trigger the seeds to develop a strong underground ‘root’ below from which future Spiranthes may spring…
24th September Betty has matured and released seeds from some of the lower capsules, if not all. It has become very ragged and the whole above-ground plant may now wither and seem to die. But these orchids can grow again over many years emerging from the root or vegetative lateral bud which grows alongside…
NB. The Red Dates are used to indicate that the date of a particular Image is different from the normal date for that particular column.

NEXT STEP: Can we track Seed Release at L. Cullin?

This concludes our review of sexual fertility and fecundity in the orchid, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, at a site in the NE corner of Lough Cullin, Co. Mayo. It has been an inspiring task and we often thought it would be impossible to complete mainly due to the normal flooding of these orchid beds in August and September — not to mention October. The site has remained totally available and accessible until the 7th October. At the time of writing (Oct 21, 2022) water level at Lough Cullin has risen over 4 days of rain to 0.499m above the long Summer low water level. This will have flooded all the study area which, fortunately, we had fully surveyed on the 2nd of October. Very large amounts of seed will have been dispersed into the water at L. Cullin and it will be interesting to see what affect this will have on Spiranthes numbers in years to come… all being well! Of course Spiranthes has another system of reproduction which does not involve fertilsation. It is called ‘lateral budding’ whereby a plant produces another stem parallel and attached to an established plant. Up to 3 lateral buds may develop and they will survive over the Winter even if flooded. They develop as separate plants in the following year and may or may not flower. This explains small cluster of up to 4 plants. The majority of established Spiranthes generate lateral buds usually in September. This is a very important means by which an established colony can reproduce, expand and replace maturing specimens after a life span of 4 or more years. Plants appearing unexpectedly in areas not known for the occurrence of S. romanzoffiana can normally be attributed to wind borne seed.

Viewing and Sizing:

Ten plants have been selected as specimens based on their appearance and location in mid July. Each of these has been photographed over 21/2 months and are shown above in regular columns and dates; occasionally this date is changed in which case the date of the actual photograph is listed in Red. This task seemed impossible and we were dubious of success but we have made it… If you wish to interrogate the data displayed above, we strongly advise using a medium sized monitor (1400px plus) and a competent computer. But OUR PROJECT HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL; Irish Lady’s Tresses are producing and releasing fertilised seeds very widely in the air, water and shorelines of L. Cullin and (by assumption) L. Conn and Levally Lough.

Bearing Seeds

Since upgrading the large pictorial survey of maturing Spiranthes flowers (ABOVE) we have noticed a lot of seeds in the 5th column (24 Sept- 2nd Oct) of that survey. All spikes are by that stage fully mature and starting to die. All the images in that column show split capsules with many seeds packed along seeding beds and others flowing out in the wind and landing on Spiranthes, other seed pods, leaves or bracts, as well as on occasional smooth pebbles nearby. Also, amazingly, in a mild breeze and bright sunshine individual seeds have been seeing drifting away from the ‘mother’ plant. This was achieved using a large hand held lens. It reminds us of another orchid, the Broad-leave Helleborine which regular released large numbers of seeds readily visible in the right conditions and dispersing in the bright sunshine. These seeds are, of course, a lot bigger than the Spiranthes seeds. To confirm that the seeds seen in L. Cullin are fertile we collected some shed seeds from around the specimens. The particular plant we watched shedding was not one of our study specimens but was from The Nursery, Car Park 1, north of Foxford. Here there is a dense fertile colony sharing their space with busy Summer holiday makers. They have shared the indignity of grass cutting, having tents put on top of them, and many families rightly enjoying the beautiful place. None of them noticed the Spiranthes and we didn’t tell many about them; they survived miraculously well. Some were flattened and squashed but they recovered by curving the shoot upwards and continuing to grow. One of these specimens was busy releasing a haze of seeds in a steady breeze. Interestingly, bearing in mind our theory that seeds of this species may travel from North America, these seeds showed no tendency to drop to the ground and flowed away in the open air with a light breeze. It was easy to collect some of these seeds by placing a small plastic sample jar near the plant or hanging a sterile piece of clear plastic in their path, or simply collecting fallen seeds below the capsule from which they were pouring. This way the plants weren’t interfered with and valuable data was collected.
In late September seeds were seen floating free from the plants and were collected and photographed through a microscope for the purpose of confirming if the seeds were viable. Conclusion: 666 specimens were found and recorded. Some of these were damaged; many survived in a remarkable fashion. e.g. the lakeside Playground on the North East shore of L. Cullin. The vast majority of these flowered and, after a short delay, many went on to produce copious seed pods. In September/early October these pods were seen to split open (See above Panel, column 5) and release seed. These  seeds were largely vibrant as indicated by the presence and growth of the seed nucleus, the yellow object in the images RIGHT

S. romanzoffiana Seed Images… RIGHT

This years project started with counting and mapping plants as they were found around the 3 lakes of Conn, Cullin and Levally. Subsequently we took many close up photographs of the maturing flowers to see if seed were being produced and dispersed.
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