If you have ever seen this little beauty of an orchid, also known as the Moccasin Flower, you will remember it!
It was early June and I was walking a woods to check out some softwood stands. As I walked into a Red Pine stand, I came upon 28, yep I counted them, 28 Pink Lady’s Slippers in an area about 5’ x 15’. If you have ever seen this little beauty of an orchid, also known as the Moccasin Flower, you will remember it! They are rare and the deer like them a lot, making them even rarer.
They need just the right soil characteristics for the seed to germinate and grow. This is one reason they are rare. They require acidic soil below a pH of 5. Above this pH, the plant is killed by fungus it can’t ward off. Below this pH, in order to survive, the tiny seed requires a specific fungal species of mycorrhizae to break open the seed and attach itself to it supplying food and nutrients. When the plant is older, it actually supplies the fungus with nutrients. This is what is known as a symbiotic relationship. Most orchids have this relationship. In fact, most trees do too. It helps keep a tree healthy by supplying nutrients it couldn’t otherwise get.
The plants take around 5 years to mature and flower. They can live to be 20 years old or more. They are illegal to pick, but can be purchased from growers such as: http://www.hillsidenursery.biz/. They are found in a variety of habitats, mostly under pine or birch trees in soil that is well-drained and acidic.
The pollination of the flower is fascinating. A bee enters the flower through a slit between petals at the showy pink front, attracted as well by the sweet scent. There is no nectar available once the bee gets inside the flower. The only escape is through a back way guided by light in the openings and hairs that bend toward the two exits. On the way out, any pollen on the bee will get wiped off on to the stigma at the end of the pistil (female part of the plant) to fertilize the embryos that become seeds. As the bee exits, new pollen is picked up from the pollen masses above each opening. This is then used to pollinate the next orchid the bee goes to.
The Pink Lady’s Slipper has some cousins that you may enjoy searching for. All these orchids may be found from May through July.
The Yellow Lady’s Slipper (http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/cypripedium/cypripedium_parviflorum.shtml) prefers semi- shady, damp, acidic soils in mixed deciduous forests to open meadows.
The Showy Lady’s Slipper (http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/cypripedium/cypripedium_reginae.shtml) grows on well-drained alkaline or limestone-based organic soils in damp deciduous forests and rocky outcrops.
Happy searching. And while you are at, it check out other fascinating activities you can do in your woods at: http://www.mywoodlot.com/