Ok, let’s just get this straight from the get-go.
The slippers that belong to the lady.
As we do for most native orchid concerns, I refer to Paul Martin Brown’s “Wild Orchids of the Northeast” for most of our orchid data. Keith has actually spent some time with Paul Martin Brown, by the way. Maybe he’ll write about it sometime (hint hint!)!
Cypripedium genus includes all twelves species of ‘Lady’s-slippers,” and they all have that obvious ‘slipper’ shape to the bloom that is easily recognizable.
Here in New England, we have the following four species:
Cypripedium acaule – The classic. The pink.
Cypripedium reginae – (see that ‘regal’ in there? Latin is easy!) The showy.
Cypripedium arietium – oooohhhhhhhh. Ram’s head. Found in super secret places.
Cypripedium parviflorum – Yellow! There are actually a few forms of C. parviflorum, but we’ll go into that later.
First and foremost, despite popular belief, pink lady’s-slippers are NOT rare. Bearded forest rangers are not going to drag you to forest jail if you pick one! New Hampshire Public Radio actually did a story on that myth, and according to them it may stem from an old Massachusetts ruling (it actually looks like you were not able to pick trailing arbutus, either)!
This picture of Cypripedium acaule was taken in the parking lot of Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, NH at the end of May. We frequent Castle grounds often! Surrounded by over 5,000 glorious acres of conservation land managed by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust, there are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of places to explore. The lands are criss-crossed with trails; if you are in the area, absolutely check them out!
But anyway, that’s a pink. They are beautiful, no doubt, and a common sight in our woods and disturbed areas.
Cypripedium reginae, the showy lady’s-slipper. It’s not just their colors that are showy, it’s their size as well. They are HUUUUUGGGGEEE, growing up to three feet tall! Now that’s what I call an orchid. Unlike the pinks, these ARE rare. Ranked S1 in New Hampshire (as well as in Connecticut, S2 in Massachusetts, and S3 in Maine and Vermont), there are only a few places to see these.
Showy lady’s-slippers are found in wetlands, and luckily we have Eshqua Bog. Eshqua Bog is in Hartland, VT, and is owned by The Nature Conservancy. There is a handicapped-accessible boardwalk that winds through it, and from that boardwalk you can see dozens of these beauties blooming during late June and early July.
It is certainly worth a trip!
Cypripedium arietinum. The Ram’s-head Lady’s-slipper. Ooooohhhhhhh. Yes, I said ooooohhhhhhhhh. Quite opposite of Cypripedium reginae in terms of size, but just as showy! The rarest of the New England Cypripediums, Ram’s-head are ranked S1 in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts, historical in Connecticut (sad face), and S2 in Vermont. Lucky Vermont.
Only 10 to 33 cm tall (yes, centimeters!), the flowers are about the size of your thumb. If you see these in the woods, you should do the following:
- Stop!! Do NOT move. These are SO tiny, and SO hard to see (especially when not in flower, and do remember for every one you see in flower there may be a dozen NOT in flower), you really need to get your bearings before you take any more steps!
- Stare at the flower for about an hour. You’ll want to.
- Tip toe away! Step on rocks or downed wood as much as possible!
- Report the sighting to your applicable state authority.
These rules really go for any ranked plant, but are ultra-important with this tiny guy.
Cypripedium parviflorum. The yellow lady’s-slipper. A little bigger in stature than pinks and, when you see them, the seem to appear sturdier. The pouch is firmer, the leaves are thicker. Sturdier! Additionally, while pink lady’s-slippers have only basal leaves (a good botanical term to know, meaning the leaves are only growing from the bottom)… yellow lady’s-slippers have leaves going all the way up the stem. These are ranked (or historical) in all New England states. There are three variations of Cypripedium parviflorum in New England; we’ll go over those in more detail later!
All four lady’s-slipper species – pink, showy, arietinum and yellow – are obviously gorgeous, and a great place to start when learning about native orchids! Be sure to pick up Paul Martin Brown’s book!