Photo by Melody

Lady's Slippers Slipping Away

By Audrey Stallsmith (AudreyApril 29, 2013
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Among the most exotic of wildflowers, pouched lady's slipper orchids are also now among the most rare wildflowers in some parts of the country. I don't recall ever seeing one here in western Pennsylvania. My dad remembers his older sisters sighting some when they were girls walking a wooded road home from school, but the only one of those "girls" still living today is in her 90s.

Gardening picture

pink lady's slipperFour varieties are considered threatened here in Pennsylvania, including White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum),  Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum),  Greater Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens), and Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae).  I've heard rumors that some of the latter grow near a local swamp.  But nobody posts maps as to their location--for good reason.

One of the main reasons for wild orchids becoming so rare is that people frequently try to transplant them into their gardens.  This seldom works, since few of us can provide the forest or swamp conditions the plants prefer. maroon and yellow lady's slipper

Because lady's slippers are difficult to propagate, you will have to pay a high price if you purchase nursery-grown plants.  I would avoid buying any that seem suspiciously inexpensive, however, as they were probably harvested from the wild.  If you can spare the money to purchase nursery-grow lady's slippers, you might want to opt for hybrids, as they are supposed to tolerate regular garden soil better than the species types of lady's slippers do.

For those species types, most growers recommend digging out that garden soil and replacing it with a mix of very fast-draining ingredients such as forest soil, seedling bark, sand, and gravel.  You then set the plant on top of that substrate, with its tubers spread out horizontally and covered only with an inch or so of compost.  Because most lady's slippers must be kept damp in at least partial shade, they require excellent drainage to prevent their rotting.  Two of the cypripediums pictured here, kentuckiense and parviflorum var. pubescens (in the thumbnail), are supposed to be among the easiest  to grow.

maroon and yellow lady's slipperAlthough the seeds of lady's slippers aren't expensive, since the plants produce large numbers of them, those seeds require a certain type of fungi to germinate.   It is usually recommended that they be sown around the mother plant, which can be tricky if you don't have a mother plant!  I did find one seller who offered a little soil from his orchid patch along with the seeds.  But I suspect my chances of germinating any are still about as slim as the seedlings would be!

pink and white lady's slipperLady's slippers generally don't do well in warmer climates either, as they require a dormant period during the winter.  If you like the look of them, keep in mind that the very similar but much more tropical Paphiopedilum orchid hybrids can be easily grown in pots indoors.

I'll have to ask my aunt whether she remembers where she saw those lady's slippers, since some colonies can last for a very long time.  It is my fear, however, that they may be slipping away from us as rapidly as the "greatest generation" is. 

So, if I actually locate any, I'll just take their photo and nothing else.  There are some plants which I suspect were just never meant to be domesticated!

 


Photos:  Cypripedium acaule photo is by spex, Cypripedium calceolus photo by pascal, and Cypripedium reginae photo by anyjazz65, all courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.  Cypripedium kentuckiense is by an unknown contributor and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens photo by Daniel Layton, both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 


  About Audrey Stallsmith  
Audrey StallsmithAudrey is the author of the Thyme Will Tell mystery series from WaterBrook Press (Random House) and an e-book of humorous rural romances titled Love and Other Lunacies. In addition to digging up plots--both garden variety and novel--the former Master Gardener writes free articles on plant history and folklore for her Thyme Will Tell site and posts her photos at GardenPhotographs.net . Audrey also designs hay-seedy stuff and nonsense for her Rustic Ramblings Zazzle store, and indulges in mystery novels, apologetics, cryptic crosswords, old lace, beads, and Border Collies. Follow her on Google.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
East Central Pennsylvania Coal Fields mom2shaggy 0 4 May 12, 2013 11:56 AM
Very pertinent article, Audrey Cville_Gardener 4 20 May 9, 2013 3:31 PM
third orchid fro the top pspiersy 1 12 May 1, 2013 6:10 AM
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