I might have been wrong about how hard it would be to attract a pink lady’s slipper to my native plants yard. I thought it would require the skills of a master gardener or a cosmic convergence to attract this gorgeous orchid.
Now I’m thinking benign neglect helped as much as anything. I’ll explain in a bit.
This weekend I discovered three young pink lady’s slipper plants (Cypripedium acaule) in our cabin yard. They’re coming up at the edge of a grove of red pines, just shy of the bluff overlooking Lake 26. They have no flowers yet and it might be years before they’re mature enough to flower. Below is a photo of one of them. The young lady's slipper is in the lower right.
These spectacular pink orchids thrive in our acidic soil, but they need some help. The lady’s slipper seeds are teeny and hold no nutrients inside to help a young plant get started. They rely instead on a particular fungus in the soil to bring them food. The threads of the fungus attach themselves to the seed, break it open, and pass nutrients to the seed. When the orchid plant is more established, the fungus extracts nutrients from its roots. It’s a sweet deal for both orchid and fungus.
In my yard, I recognized the plant for its two leaves that seem to emerge from the ground with no stem. The leaves are a little fuzzy and have several parallel veins in them
Going forward, the plants will need not just a special fungus, but also bees to pollinate any flowers that appear. So now I’m rooting for fungus and bees. I will also continue my practice of benign neglect: create a great space for native flowers and grasses and then pretty much leave that space alone to see what happens.
A few links for more information:
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