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Lady’s Slippers! May 31, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

OK, we’re back to the woodland flowers.  There’s a good deal of overlap, you know.

I went up to High Ledges in Shelburne to look for Ladies’ Slippers, common enough in these parts if you’re looking for the (ubiquitous) pink ones.  But I was hoping, for the third year in a row, to find the much rarer yellow variety, closely related yet significantly different in both color and form.

Near the overlook, mountain laurels were just starting to pop:

…and red columbines sprung from a cleft in an old stone wall:

And then, along side the trail running above the ledges, there were… Lady’s Slippers!

Groups of pink ones graced the forest floor with their showy blooms and deep, lush foliage:

These are our most common local orchids, Cypripedium acaule :

Their distinctive pink labellum  opens with a slit down the front:

…which, it turns out, is a distinctive feature of C. acaule.   (Most lady slippers open with a rounder hole at the top of the lip.)  It’s also worth noting that the two lateral petals are fairly straight and flat, like little knives.

I spent an hour wandering the trails, looking for the elusive yellow lady slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum.  This plant is also called C. pubescens  and was formerly conflated with the Eurasian C. calceolus.   (No, I don’t know stuff, and yes, I Wiki’d it.)

Finally, as I was about to give up and go home disappointed, a flash of yellow forty feet off the trail caught my eye, and… there it was:

…my first yellow!

The structural differences were noteworthy – the lateral petals were wonderfully twisted, the sepal on top was all fancy (Ah must say! ) and the pouch opened with a round hole at the top rather than the frontal slit of the local pink variety.

There were two plants here, only one of which had the flower attached to its single stalk, which is extremely unfortunate – the flower MUST cycle through and wither on the stem for the plant to return next season.  I say it’s unfortunate because lady slippers seldom reproduce in the wild, but live a very long time if undisturbed.  Many are thought to be older than the trees surrounding them!

Well, there it is.  Now that I know where to look I’ll start a bit earlier next year and hope for more, but for now, we only get one.