This woodland flower’s location is my little secret. A neighbor who lives within shouting distance summoned me two days ago to take a walk in the woods to see a special flower. “Bring your camera,” she said. She wanted to share her Pink Lady’s Slipper ( Cypripedium acaule) that was found by her mother-in-law forty years ago. With care, we moved through the pinewoods watching every step we made until we came upon a small colony of pink blooms. Her native orchids grew in the dappled light of loblolly pines in a thick, moist cushion of leaf litter.
Breathtaking would be a good description of the small pink blooms. Each plant is comprised of two leaves near the ground and a stalk that bears a single flower looking much like the dainty slipper for which it is named. The pollination process of Pink Lady’s Slipper is interesting. Attracted by the bright color, bees enter through a slit that runs down the front of the bloom. Once inside, the insect appears trapped, however it can escape through a different exit after squeezing beneath the pollen on the stigma. Then it’s on to the next bloom. Between 10,000 and 20,000 seeds are produced in a seedpod. Because seeds do not have endosperm or food storage, they require a special soil fungus in order to digest food for growth.
The Pink Lady’s Slipper is fragile and should never be dug up or picked. Transplanting of this plant, more often than not, kills it because of the needs of the plant. Endangered in some states, it grows very slowly, taking many years to mature from seed. But in the right location, it can live for twenty years of more. I’m honored that my neighbor trusted me enough to share her lady’s slipper. I will keep the location of her orchids private and the only bloom I took was with my camera.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester