The Lovely Lady’s Slipper

This unusual, hardy orchid is the perfect show-stopping plant for cold-climate gardens.

Photo by  Adobe Stock/Victorflowerfly

With their delicate flowers’ close resemblance to dainty, ornate footwear, lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium spp.) are undeniably beautiful. Named after the island of Cyprus, Cypripedium has a romantic origin, referring to where Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was born. The suffix “pedium” likely comes from the Greek word pedilon, meaning “shoe” — with a bit of imagination, “lady’s slipper.”

Perhaps you’ve seen them while hiking through a wooded area or mountainous region. These small, ground-hugging, clump-forming orchids can be difficult to spot except during their bloom time between April and mid-June, when the drifts of flowers are absolutely show-stopping. The blooms — which range in color from yellow to cream to pink — each sport a “slipper” formed from modified petals (called “labella”) and three long, twisted sepals, which are usually not the same color as the slipper. The flowers are borne on short stalks that emerge from a rosette of leaves.

Photo by Flickr/Justin Meissen

In the wild, lady’s slipper orchids are rarely found in exposed sites. Instead, you’ll spot them beneath trees and shrubs, nestled into low grasses, or alongside ferns and other plants that thrive in places that don’t receive the direct light and heat of a midday sun. Lady’s slippers prefer cool temperatures and morning sun or dappled shade. They’re good selections to tuck beneath deciduous trees, as the tree crowns are open and allow light to penetrate below. Hostas (Hosta spp.), primroses (Primula spp.), coral bells (Heuchera spp.), and bergenia (Bergenia spp.) are excellent companion plants, as they all enjoy similar conditions.

Lady’s Slipper Specifications

Fortunately for gardeners, lady’s slipper orchids are not particularly choosy about soil type. While many orchids perform best in an acidic environment, lady’s slippers work well within a neutral pH range, so chances are you won’t have to amend the soil in your growing site. Your soil must be well-drained, however, and it’s prudent to avoid planting in compacted, heavy clay soils, as this will restrict root growth. If your soil is on the heavy side, try adding compost to loosen it.



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