Hiking on the Appalachian Trail: Wawayanda Mountain in Warwick, NJ, I came across five beautiful pink lady’s slippers in bloom (see the pictures above). These specimens were spectacular. They were definitely in the last stages of their bloom cycle. There were five other orchids that had lost their blooms. I didn’t find the large colonies of orchids I had been seeking and can’t wait until next spring to find the orchids en masse.

A few interesting facts about the pink lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium acaule Aiton):

• It Grows as far east as Newfoundland, Canada; as far west as the northwest territories of Canada; as far south as Alabama; and north beyond Banks Island, Canada well into the Arctic Circle.

• Cypripedium acaule requires acidic soil.

• The orchid is usually found in pine forests, where it can be seen in large colonies, but it also grows in deciduous woods. I found my first specimens at one of the highest points of Pennsylvania’s Delaware Water gap… at an altitude where pines begin to thrive, dropping their acidic needles, creating the acidic soil the orchid prefers.

• It tolerates a range of shade and moisture, but prefers partial shade and well-drained slopes.

• The pink lady’s slipper grows 6 to 15 inches tall and flowers between May and July.

• The orchid has a symbiotic relationship with a specific fungus in the soil. As with most orchids, the seeds do not have a food supply of their own. Therefore, the pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed. The fungus then passes along food and nutrients to the seed. When the orchid is mature and producing its own nutrients, the fungus will feed on nutrients from the orchid roots. This symbiotic relationship is typical of most orchid species.

• Cypripedium acaule requires bees for pollination. Bees are lured into the flower’s bottom pouch (the “lady slipper” for which it is named). The bees are attracted by the flower’s bright color and sweet scent. Unlike most flowers, the bees find no nectar and leave the pouch with only the orchid’s pollen.

• The orchid takes many years to mature into adult plants and can live to be twenty years old or more.

• Because of the very specific conditions mentioned above, the orchid cannot survive transplantation and domestication.

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All images and content copyright Jeffrey Schneider of JAMES Modern Terrariums 2009.