Lady’s-slippers (Genus Cypripedium) This genus of orchids, for good reason, is named after Kypris the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The other part of the Latin name refers to the “foot” or better, “slipper.” There are about 45 species in the world and 6 or 7 in Manitoba, depending on how you count. I have been lucky enough to see all of them in Manitoba. The flowers in this genus are all famous for having a pouch that looks like a slipper that has led to its name. The slipper is really an inflated lip.
Insects crawl into the lip through an opening at the top of the lip but then usually are unable to get back out the same way. This forces the insect to to crawl inside the lip where there is an escape hatch. Orchids can be liars and cheats, but are not mean. The pathway in the Lady’s-slipper is pinched so that the hapless insect contacts the stigma (female organ) first where pollen on its back is deposited to start the process of fertilization. Then it is forced to pass the anther (male organ) where it gathers pollen hopefully to deposit it in another Lady’s-slipper which will also be pollinated. Because the process is usually repeated in the next flower that ensures cross pollination.
At some of my favorite locations for Lady’s-slippers I have noticed holes where people dig them out. No other orchid is dug out more frequently than Lady’s-slippers and this has contributed greatly to their decline. The World Wildlife Fund in 1995 rated lady’s-slippers as among the 10 most wanted plants or animals threatened by illegal and unsustainable trade. Transplanting them is rarely successful. We should all learn to appreciate them in the wild rather than horrid them at our homes.
The largest and flashiest of the Manitoba Lady’s-slippers is properly called Showy lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium reginae). The name is derived from the Latin word reginae which means queen. It is the queen of every bog, swamp and fen in which it is found.
Moccasin- Flower or Pink lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium acaule) is not usually found in bogs and swamps though I have seen them there. They prefer pine forests.
Ram’s-head lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium arietinum) is the smallest of Manitoba’s Lady’s-slippers. The entire flower can be hidden by a dime. Here is one with a mosquito on it that shows the size well.
Small white lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium candidum) is the rarest of Manitoba’s Lady’s-slipper and is the only one on the endangered species list. Though all of them are rare and should be protected.
We have 2 species of yellow Lady’s-slipper in Manitoba, though some argue that there are actually 3 while others say all should be considered one species. Northern small yellow lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium parviflorum). Besides size, the most reliable way to tell them apart, though not without its complications, it has a smaller lip and usually darker petals and sepals that are often more twisted.
Large yellow lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium parviflorum Salisbury var. pubescens)is larger than the smaller cousin.
Then we have hybrids between the white and yellow Lady’s-slippers.
Sparrow’s-egg lady’s-slipper, Franklin’s lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium passerinum)is found in northern Manitoba. I have not included a photograph. I have seen it as far south as Grand Rapids.
I found this very interesting when I found the small Ram’s Head Lady’s-slipper and Large Yellow Lady’s-sllipper side by side. Naturally I could not resist photographing them.
Unfortunately there is one very said fact I have to mention, though it gives me great pain. I have to report that there is a monstrous conspiracy among some scientists to have Lady’-slippers removed from the family of orchids. This is worse—far worse—than the movement to have Pluto ousted from the class of planets in our solar system. This conspiracy is so heinous I fear that armed rebellion may be needed to put it down. Keep your powder dry.