Howling Woods Farm

Pink Lady’s Slipper a/k/a “wild orchid”

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Cypripedium acaule Ait.

Cypripedium acaule, commonly called Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower, is widely distributed across the eastern United States and eastern to central Canada, from Alabama to the Northwest Territories. It is a large, showy wildflower belonging to the orchid family.  It has two opposite basal leaves with conspicuous parallel veins and a large flower at the end of an erect stalk. The flower is magenta to whitish-pink; sometimes the whitish-pink flowers will have darker pink venation. Rarely the flower may be all white. This plant grows 6 to 15 inches tall and flowers generally between May and July.  Pink lady’s slipper lives in a variety of habitats, growing in mixed hardwood coniferous forests of pine and hemlock on rocky/mossy slopes, and in semi-open or in deep humus and acidic but well-drained soil under birch and other deciduous trees of eastern United States forests.

The root of the lady’s slipper was used as a remedy for nervousness, tooth pain, and muscle spasms. In the 1800s and 1900s it, and other orchids, were widely used as a substitute for the European plant valerian for sedative properties.

In order to survive and reproduce, the pink lady’s slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil.   Generally, orchid seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds. Pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. Pink lady’s slippers also require bees for pollination.

Pink lady’s slipper takes many years to go from seed to mature plants.  Seed-bearing harvest of wild lady’s slipper root is not considered sustainable. Pink lady’s slippers can live to be twenty years old or more.