Say “orchid” and the picture that comes to mind is a row of exotic blooms in a little glass house. Not a quiet spruce bog.
But from Manitoba to Arkansas, that’s exactly the kind of setting where you’ll find the lovely terrestrial orchid called showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This wildflower gets its common name from the rosy pink lip or pouch underneath the white petals. Leaves are oval to lance-shaped and slightly hairy. In the wild, this rare flower grows in damp, cool spots that get a bit of direct sunlight. The showy lady’s slipper is Minnesota’s state flower.
Common name: Showy lady’s slipper
Botanical name: Cypripedium reginae
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 2 to 7
Height: 1 to 3 feet
• Sun: Dappled or partial sun
• Soil: Humus-rich
• Moisture: Moist
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By division and seed.
Pests and diseases
• Susceptible to leaf spot, rust, and gray mold.
• Vulnerable to slugs.
• Showy lady’s slipper is threatened or endangered in many states. Do not dig it up from a wild setting; buy plants from a reputable source.
• It doesn’t transplant well, so think carefully when deciding where to plant. Pick a spot in rich, humusy soil that stays moist. Showy lady’s slippers do best in partial shade, with just a few hours of direct sun.
• Wear gloves when planting your showy lady’s slipper, as contact with the leaves can cause a rash.
• Under the right conditions, showy lady’s slipper will expand slowly to form clumps.
• This terrestrial orchid will thrive in a shady rock garden or a woodland setting.
All in the family
• There are about 45 species of Cypripedium. They’re mainly found in North America and Asia.
• With at least 22,000 species, Orchidaceae is the largest family of blooming plants. Species are found all over the globe, but are most abundant in the tropics. Commercially cultivated vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, is a member of this family.
Where to buy
• Vermont Ladyslipper Company, New Haven, VT, www.vtladyslipper.com
• Wild Orchid Company, Carversville, PA, 215-297-5053, www.wildorchidcompany.com
• Wildflower Rescue of MN, Northfield, MN, 952-484-8207, www.wildflowerrescue.com
(Photo of Cypripedium reginae by Tracy Walsh)