Who can describe the regal beauty of the queen of wildflowers, the Lady’s Slipper orchid? A native to the temperate regions of North America, the flower is large in proportion to overall size and brilliantly colorful. It does, indeed, resemble an Indian princess’ moccasin. In fact, the Lady’s Slipper is sometimes called the moccasin flower.
Although the Lady’s Slipper flower is often pink, violet, or some combination with white, one of the most breath-taking Lady’s Slippers is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper, seen in this image. “Wow! What a phenomenal flower,” you cry out. “So why do you speak of special requirements? What are those requirements?” I’m glad you asked.
In order to survive and reproduce, Lady’s Slippers depend on a particular fungus (Genus Rhizoctonia) in its surrounding soil. As the United States Forest Service indicates, “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.”1 It is not seed germination alone that dictates the presence of the fungus. The orchid thrives in its presence. In symbiotic relationship, the fungus receives nutrients in return from the orchid’s roots, once it is mature.
In most situations, it is better to leave these beauties where they are growing. Commonly, when one digs up a Lady’s Slipper (if that is even legal where you live), the flower languishes and dies. Sometimes, however, a “rescue operation” is called for. In a city nearby where I live, a university was party to an agreement with a local wildflower organization that, if they were going to build they would alert the organization so they could check the land for native wildflowers of interest and relocate them to a safe refuge.
So what may be the best way to transplant (if one must) a Lady’s Slipper? To assure the presence of fungus for the plant and unusually large undisturbed ball of dirt surrounding the plant should be dug, and transplantation should be reasonably rapid. The location should be prime. As the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project indicates, specific varieties of Lady’s Slippers have different preferences. In general, moist, shady woodland areas in cool areas are preferred. Soil pH should be only mildly acid, about a pH of 5.5 to 6.0.2
1 US Forest Service – Celebrating Wildflowers – Pink Ladies Slipper
2 Gardens of the Blue Ridge, Inc. – “Cypripedium calceolus – Yellow Lady Slipper”