Sunday, June 15, 2014

Lollygagging with Ladyslippers!

Cypripedium calceolus  v. puberscens in Nova Scotia
 Few plants possess the grace and charisma of the yellow ladyslipper. Imagine my delight two weeks ago when Jamie Ellison--one of Canada's great plantsmen--offered to take us to go see it during our magical trip to Nova Scotia. He also showed us the even rarer Cypripedium arietinum, the Ram's head ladyslipper: alas, my picture of it was excerable--so we'll stick to the yellow ones.

Cypripedium calceolus v. puberscens in Nova Scotia
 Here you can see one of the remarkable colony in its amazing habitat: in Nova Scotia, these only grow on gypsum based soils--and almost all the individuals we found were growing in full sun on the harsh, white pavement-like slabs of gypsum. Don't try this at home! There was water not too far down--this was a sort of fen--but it certainly looked Spartan!

Cypripedium calceolus v. pubescens in Colorado
 Imagine my utter surprise on Friday when my colleague, Mike Bone suggested we drive by the Wet Mountain Valley on our way back from the San Luis Valley to Denver after a two day field trip. He casually added that we might be in time to see the yellow ladyslipper where he and Larry Vickerman had seen it the year before. And sure as shootin', Mike drove us to the self-same spot--alongside a highway, growing in thick grass in full sun once again! The fileds nearby were all hayfields, and there is an irrigation canal not far away
Cypripedium calceolus v. pubescens in Colorado
A blurry closeup that shows it growing with dandelions, and a barbed wire fence nearby: hardly typical ladyslipper country!

Cypripedium calceolus v. pubescens in Kentucky
Here is a plant with double flowers we found along the roadside in the Cumberland River area of  Kentucky two Aprils ago. This was growing in very diverse, mature hardwood forest--more the sort of setting one would expect to find these in. The few times I've seen them hitherto in Colorado they've also been in forest--only aspen and ponderosa pine!

Red ladyslipper near Halifax, Nova Scotia
 The Ramshead may have eluded me, but the Pink (or Red) Ladyslipper was ubiquitous--this grew practically everywhere we visited--in various Provincial parks, local woodlots, on the fringes of people's private gardens (where they were usually wild). There must be millions of these in Nova Scotia alone, and let's not even talk about Quebec or New Brunswick or the Northeastern U.S.A. (where I have seen this many times in the past). This is one of our real unsung gems...although cultivating it is still a trick, unless you've graduated from Hogwarts Academy.

There were vast clusters of these all over Nova Scotia...woo hooo!

Cypripedia for sale at Nick's Garden Center in Aurora, Colorado
I have been reading that ladyslippers are being growin in rather large quantities now by a few clever nurserymen in Europe and North America: the protocol for growing these. Once almost all ladyslippers were wild collected. You can imagine how shocked I was to see them for sale last year in Aurora. The price gave me a shock as well--over 100 dolla

I was sorely tempted to buy this fabulous albino of Cypripedium Reginae--the state flower of Minnesota and Quebec.

They even had Cypripedium kentuckyense--a very strange and wonderful plant...
 I was especially taken with this enormous cousin to our yellow ladyslipper.

Cypripedium Reginae at RBG Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Gardens' exquisite woodland garden had an enormous border lined with ladyslippers...

And I end with this shot of a close relative of our plant growing in the woods in China. I took this picture in the foothills of the Yulongshan, near Lijiang--the southernmost of China's "Snow mountains" where a dozen or more species of Cypripedia are found. I only saw three during my visit--and this was the queen of the yellows--China's version of the yellow ladyslipper. All of them enchanting!


  1. I tried to get a C. calceolus v. pubescens this year, but the nursery ran out of their stock, I suppose. I'll just bide my time again until I have the time, spot, and most importantly, ca$h for these rare beauties.

  2. At the rate the Dutch, Germans (and a few American propagators) are going, they'll be as cheap as dyed blue orchids at Target soon!

  3. There is increasing interest in wild orchids in the UK as well. I was at an iron age fort over the weekend and the banks were covered in 4 or 5 different types, in fact it is one of the reasons people visit. The location of rarer UK ones are still kept secret and can have guards.
    I hope to introduce a few varieties into my garden if I can nurseries that supply them.


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