Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids
With its glorious pink and white blossoms and thumb-sized pouches, this orchid is perhaps the most exquisite of all our wildflowers.
In spring a botanical treasure rises in boggy mires scattered among our hills. Born of perpetually damp organic soil, this is an orchid that is more than worthy of its name – the showy lady’s slipper. June sees the appearance of its glorious pink and white blossoms, thumb-sized pouches that make it, arguably, the most exquisite of all of our wildflowers.
My memory of my first encounter with this stunning plant is vivid. Sweat trickled and mosquitoes buzzed as I searched for birds in a soggy, well-nigh impenetrable woodland in Caledon.
Struggling through thickets of cedars and balsam fir, I had just about reached the end of my tether. But then a patch of showy lady’s slippers appeared, glowing like beacons in the gloomy woods. Any discomfort was forgotten.
The lives of these glorious plants unfold on a time scale rivaling that of humans. A seed that successfully germinates may take several years to produce a root system and the first wisp of a leaf.
Often the orchid is a teenager before it is able to produce a blossom. Then, given the right conditions, it may display those blossoms for generations. There may even be some showy lady’s slippers out there that have contributed colour to nature’s palette for over a century.
Cypripedium reginae is the Latin name for the showy lady’s slipper. And what an apt name it is! “Cypripedium” essentially means “sandal of Venus” and “reginae” means “Queen” – lovely appellations for lovely plants.
People, of course, covet such beauty and, wielding trowels and shovels, wrench showy lady’s slippers from their specialized boggy habitat. However, some things just simply aren’t meant to be possessed. Planted in suburban gardens, these denizens of dark, moist soils soon languish and die.
Please honour the “Queen” in the wild and allow others the same privilege.
Learn more on North American Native Plant Society web site.