Last weekend I had the experience of seeing seventeen real live pink lady's slippers in their native environment. The experience has already resulted in one blog post and also inspired me to learn more about the native wildflower.
A marvel of floral design, pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is a member of the orchid family. Its flower is a single, slipper-shaped sac that grows on a long stem emerging from 2 leaves at its base. The flower can be between 3-4 inches long on a 6-12 inch stem.
Pink lady's slipper can be found in a number of environments, but it's often found in open woods and forests with plentiful pine and/or oak trees. That's because it likes acid soil pine needles and oak leaves, which are very acidic. The plants like dappled sunlight–full sun is usually too harsh but deep shade will stunt flower growth.
One of the reasons that the pink lady slipper is so rare is that it's difficult to grow outside of the wild. It almost always must be grown from seed. The pink lady's slipper:
- Has very long but fragile roots that will not regenerate if broken. Its roots grow only in the top layer (organic) part of the soil where there's a lot of oxygen.
- Requires the presence of a certain fungi called mycorrhiza in the soil. This fungi resides in the plant's roots and helps it absorb water and nutrients. To successfully grow a pink lady's slipper, this fungi must be present in the soil.
- May seem to be successful initially, but may inexplicably die after 4-5 growing seasons.
- Has a lifespan of 100 years for a single plant, but the plant may only flower 10-20 times and only produces seed 4-5 times.
For these reasons, transplanting is not recommended unless the plant is in danger of destruction. You may see them for sale but be aware of the sellers' ethics. If the plants are very cheap, they may have been poached. Vermont Ladyslipper Company is a legitimate grower of pink lady's slippers (and other varieties) in New Haven, VT. But you'll have to try early in the season next year…they're already sold out of plants this season.
For more information on the pink lady's slipper, visit the New England Wild Flower Society's FAQ.