By Nikki Phipps
Growing a lady slipper wildflower in the woodland garden adds unique charm. While some types cannot be grown because of their rarity, there are lady slipper varieties available to the home gardener. Keep reading for more information about lady slipper plants.
Lady Slipper Orchids
Cypripedium species are members of the orchid family. Most are native across much of North America and some parts of Europe. Also referred to as lady slippers, these interesting plants have only two leaves branching out from the center. The flower itself resembles a slipper or moccasin, which is what spawned its name. These dainty blooms (ranging from white, yellow and deep pink to nearly purple) remain tightly closed with exception to the small opening in the front.
Many of these plants are considered to be endangered in some areas due to over collecting from the wild. According to Indian lore, these plants were thought to induce dreams and were once used as a sedative. Unfortunately, they also happen to be a favorite food source for many insects and deer.
Collecting and transplanting from the wild is strongly discouraged both because of its rarity and low survival rate. However, various species are grown commercially and can be obtained for gardening purposes so growing a lady slipper wildflower in your own garden is possible.
Lady slippers prefer to grow within their natural environments – shady woodland areas. Interestingly enough, lady slippers require the aid of fungus in spreading their seeds, and a single plant can live up to 20 years or more if left alone.
Lady Slipper Varieties
Here are some common varieties of lady slipper orchids:
- Pink lady slipper (C.acaule) is the state wildflower of New Hampshire. Its deep pink flowers are about 3 inches long with a sweet-smelling aroma. They almost look like little deflated pink balloons on short stalks. These interesting flowers seem to rise mysteriously from the floor beneath a canopy of pines, a harbinger of the coming warmth of summer, blooming from late June into July.
- Yellow lady slipper (C. parviflorum) is found across much of temperate Europe, Asia and North America. Due to over collecting by Indians for medicinal purposes, this plant has become quite rare in the wild. It was frequently used to treat depression and nervous disorders, serving as a mild stimulant.
- The large yellow lady’s slipper (C. parviflorum pubescens), which is considered as the North American group, blooms in early spring. This species grows in rich woodlands, but can also be found growing on the edges and elevated areas of bogs. This is the widest ranging and most variable Cypripedium in North America. Plants can grow up to two feet tall, and the petals of the flower may spread more than six inches across. The flower petals can vary from pale green to rich mahogany, but the lip is always bright yellow.
- European yellow lady slipper (C. calceolus) is very similar to C. parviflorum.
- Showy lady slipper (C. reginae) is the state flower of Minnesota, growing naturally in bogs, swamps, wet meadows and damp woodlands. This species is white and streaked with pink. The stems are covered with tiny hairs. Blooming in late spring/early summer, this 1-2 foot tall plant can actually take up to sixteen years before reaching maturity and first-time blooming.
- The small, white lady slipper (C. candidum) reaches anywhere from 6-12 inches in height, taking up to thirteen years before flowering. This particular species is considered endangered.