With an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 species, depending on how you count, the Orchid Family (Orchidaceae) is one of the largest flowering-plant families. Found on all continents except Antarctica, orchids inhabit a wide range of environments, from the mountains to prairies, from bogs to fairly dry pine forests, and from the arctic to tropical forests. They also vary from spectacularly gorgeous flowers (some of which I hope to show you) to plain Jane “little green jobs” (which I also hope to show you).
I went to two of those habitats today. One was boggy areas right beside the road. I went to one of my favorite bogs near Woodridge, not far from home, and did not have to go in. The orchids I was looking for were in the ditch right beside the road and I spotted them from the car as I drove. That was easy because the the Yellow lady’s-slipper is the largest of Manitoba’s lady’s-slippers. Manitoba has a surprising 37 species of orchids with 2 separate varieties. As well there are 3 hybrids.
What is an orchid? A characteristic feature of the orchid flower is the lip or labellum that is actually a modified petal. It serves as helipad for flying insects. The lip is usually different from the other 2 petals in shape, size, coloring, and markings. So it has 3 sepals and 3 petals.
Of course crime is common among orchids and not just orchid lovers. Most flowers and most orchids rely on cross-pollination for reproduction and the most common instrument for this are the insects. Usually they attract the insects by color and scent and then reward them for showing up to pick up pollen and deliver it to other individuals, but the lady’s-slippers are tricky. They don’t give up any nectar as a reward so really they cheat the insects.
This is the early stage of the Large Yellow-Lady’s-slipper.
A lot of people don’t realize that Lady’s-slippers are orchids. We actually have 6 different types in Manitoba. In the lady’s-slippers family (Cypripedium), the lip is conspicuous and resembles a pouch. The pouch is formed when 2 lateral sepals fuse to form a flower prominently formed as a pouch. Usually, the two lateral sepals located at the bottom of the flower are fused to form a single sepal.
This is the very early stage of the Large Yellow-Ladys-slipper when only green is visible.
In 1995, the World Wildlife Fund rated lady’s-slippers as among the 10 most wanted plants or animals threatened by illegal and unsustainable trade. I have seen many holes representing captured flowers. That is always a pity, as I strongly believe the plants should be left in the wild to preserve their genetic diversity of the plants and also to leave them for others to enjoy. Partly because of digging by humans the numbers of orchids in the wild in Manitoba have seriously declined. I belong to an organization called Native Orchid Conservation Inc. which is trying to preserve orchids and other wild flowers.
Because lady’s-slippers are different from most other orchids, some botanists have been arguing that they should be excluded from the family of orchids. This would be a monstrous crime and would warrant revolution! We have 6 types of lady’s-slippers in Manitoba. Today I saw two. One was the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper(Cypripedium parviflorumSalisbury var. pubescens). This is the most common form of lady’s-slipper in Manitoba.