Searching for the elusive Pink Lady’s Slipper

Of the many splendors of spring wildflowers in Virginia, few can rival the beauty of the Pink Lady’s Slipper.   On an overcast weekend morning, two friends and I set forth to try to find some of these elusive orchids.  We had a general idea of where they might be found, plus a collective knowledge of the habitat, wet-forested area with dappled shade.   Sometimes the journey is the point of the expedition, and we exclaimed over Birdfoot Violets, late-season Jack-in-the-Pulpits, butterflies, and so on, but were ever watchful, hoping…  In addition to the beautiful flowers and insects, there were voracious swarms of blood-sucking mosquitoes, more ticks than I would like, the terrain was mucky, and did I mention the copious amounts of poison ivy?   We wandered the trails, rambled through the woods, and were unable to find a single Lady’s Slipper.  Finally, after several hours, one Pink Lady’s Slipper was located.  Unpleasant thoughts of mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy and mud vanished with the discovery of this incredible flower.

Pink Lady’s Slippers are pretty rare.  To survive and reproduce, the lady’s slipper must interact with a soil fungus that breaks open the seed and passes on nutrients to the seed.  In return, the fungus obtains nutrients from the Lady’s Slipper’s roots.  It takes years from the germination of the seed to produce a  flowering Lady’s Slipper, so commercial cultivation is not practical.  Pink Lady’s Slippers require bees for pollination.  Bees, attracted by the color and scent, are lured into the slipper.  The only way out leads past pollen masses, and the bee leaves with pollen that is deposited in the next Lady’s Slipper it visits.

I hope that you are fortunate enough to see a Pink Lady’s Slipper this spring.

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