Yellow Lady’s Slippers

These botanical wonders sport whimsical – you guessed it – slipper-shaped blossoms.

June 5, 2018 | | Notes from the Wild

Among the large community of wildflowers growing in the Headwaters, there are some true aristocrats. Some so sublime they eclipse the ordinary beauty of other flowers. Yellow lady’s slipper orchids, for example. These botanical wonders sport whimsical – you guessed it – slipper-shaped blossoms. And they are in full glory right now.

Yellow lady’s slippers are not as numerous as trilliums or hepatica. Just rare enough that discovering one is a delightful surprise.

There are, though, a few places in our hills where numbers of yellow lady’s slippers can be seen along roads. To the north, on the Bruce Peninsula, these roadside displays are common – in fact, so many yellow lady’s slippers can grow along Bruce byways that from a speeding car they might be mistaken for dandelions. But south of the Bruce, roadside lady’s slippers are rare.

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  • The lure of these flowers encourages vice. Some people simply must possess them. But plant poachers need to understand their folly. Orchids have very specific growing conditions. They depend on a complex elixir of soil, pH, moisture and – importantly – associations with soil-born fungi that help them obtain nutrients. Lady slipper seedlings, in particular, need to quickly establish a relationship with these fungi.

    This is no small matter. The fungi serve a surrogate parent role for the seedling lady’s slippers. Without this “parenting” the young orchids can’t survive. The fungi feed them, and no doubt the orchids give back to the fungi in some way. This remarkable interdependency of unrelated organisms reminds me that no living thing, including us, is insular. Lives are entwined with other lives – fibres in a biotic cloth.

    YellowLadySlipperCloseUpA RoadsideLadySlippers YellowLadySlipperCloseUp YellowLadySlipperA YellowLadySlipper YellowLadySlipperB
    There are a few places in our hills where yellow lady’s slippers can be seen along roads.

    Mysterious and lovely, yellow lady’s slippers thrive in ferny, mossy woods. Imaginative souls could cast them as companions of woodland sprites and fairies. For me they define wildness and fragility. They signal special habitats filled with other precious life deserving of our protection.

    About the Author More by Don Scallen

    Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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    1. I walk frequently along our travel sideroad, 3-5 days a week, all seasons. Yesterday, May 28, 2022, I was startled to see a healthy clump of yellow Lady’s Slippers growing within 18 inches of the roadway. After 46 years, these flowers appear. Where have they been? I watch the roadside vegetation as I pass along. This is a first. On my return, I looked again and found 7 other distinct colonies in perfect bloom further from but still subject to the indignities inflicted upon them by the road and traffic. My self- appointment as neighbourhood watchman has now a new client. Regards.

      B Jones from Southwest of Shelburf on May 30, 2022 at 8:18 pm | Reply

      • Great discovery! If you have kept a close look over the years my guess is that the slippers were there, but non-blooming. Has there been recent clearing of overhead vegetation? (tree branches etc). This would allow more light to reach the plants. If not, they may be simply reaching maturity at this time. As for their presence along the road, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve found many great wildflowers in such situations, where they get more sunlight than they would in the forest.

        Don Scallen on May 31, 2022 at 12:41 pm | Reply

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