Portrait of a Lady(slipper)

April 21st, 2010
Wild Orchid

Flower bud, April 12

If you were here a week ago, you would have seen me all excited to find a flower bud on the wild orchid I’ve been watching for years. Now, I’m still excited, but only a little less so, at knowing its name. It turned out to be a Pink Ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule) and common as dirt. Well, I may be exaggerating on the common part. Although the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora documents it in every county of Virginia except one, I’ve never seen one. So I’m chalking it up as a life wildflower in the same way that birders list life birds.

So, how do I know it’s a Cypripedium acaule and not one of the other six species/subspecies of ladyslipper in Virginia? First clue – the species name acaule means stemless. You can see that the flower stalk appears to rise from 2 leaves directly on the ground. In other words, they’re not visibly attached to a stem.

Wild Orchid, April 20

Pink Ladyslipper orchid, April 20

Second clue – the flower is pink.

William Cullina has posted an article titled Transplanting Pink Lady-slippers (Cypripedium acaule) [.pdf here], but the title doesn’t do justice to the detailed description of life cycle and habitat presented there. After reading it, I again started to feel fortunate to have this “common” orchid just spring up in the woods. Pink ladyslipper’s seed will not germinate unless it comes in contact with a particular soil fungus. Even after that union, it takes another 3-4 years for leaves to emerge. I’ve been watching this particular plant since 2008 and this is the first time I’ve seen it bloom, although Cullina says that mature plants can remain alive underground for several years without visible leaves or flowers. So, it may be that there were once more of these ladyslippers in this area and this is one that has re-emerged, or this could be a 5-6 year old “seedling”.

I give up. I tried and tried to make this Flickr slideshow appear in chronological order to show the development of the flower over 8 days. There isn’t a photo for each day, and some were taken on the same day. See if you can guess when each photo was taken ;-)

One Response to “Portrait of a Lady(slipper)”

  1. […] my Pink Ladyslipper orchid and its protective nest of sticks? It’s now protecting more than an orchid. Checking on it […]

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