| Jul 03, 2008

Outdoors - July 3, 2008

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - July 3, 2008 Lady’s Slippers of theLand o’ Lakes Outdoors in the Land O'Lakes by Steve Blight

Some of the most interesting and attractive wildflowers found in our area are the lady’s slippers. These members of the Orchid family of plants are distinguished by their large slipper-shaped pouches, which trap and direct insect pollinators in a certain direction so that they collect or deposit small packets of pollen on their way by. Another interesting feature of lady’s slippers is that some people experience a kind of rash similar to poison ivy after they handle them. All the more reason to follow the old adage “look, but don’t touch”.

There are three species of lady’s slippers that we have a good chance of seeing in this area, and all are gorgeous – Yellow Lady’s Slipper, Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower, and Showy Lady’s Slipper. All three have flowers that are 1-2 inches in length and flower in late spring or early summer. Let’s take a closer look at each of the three plants.

Yellow Lady’s Slippers are probably the most common of the three. Botanists are still trying to figure out if there is more than one species of Yellow Lady’s Slipper in this area, or if they are just different varieties of the same species. PhDs are routinely earned by botanists who argue that single species should be split into two or more species (these scientists can collectively be referred to as “splitters”). Others argue that some groups of similar species should be put back together under one species, and they are known as “lumpers”. So far, it seems to me that the splitters are winning the day, with more and more species showing up in many plant books.

Yellow Lady’s Slippers grow in a variety of soil, sunlight and moisture regimes. Some grow in dry acidic soils, while others prefer the wet soils of bogs or the more basic soils found in areas of limestone or marble bedrock. In some places, this plant can be found growing quite happily in the open at the edge of gravel roads. In our area, it generally begins flowering at the end of May, and will flower for about a week to ten days if the weather does not get too hot.

Pink Lady’s Slippers are fussier about their growing conditions, and are only found in areas with very acidic soils. This generally limits them to two types of conditions – in sphagnum bogs, and in thin soils under pines and oaks. These flowers bloom in early June, although they flower well into July in areas to the north of our region.

The third relatively common species is the queen of the local orchids, the pink and white flowered Showy Lady’s Slipper. In our area, this plant does not need much of an introduction, thanks to the thousands of blooms that attract visitors to the Purdon Conservation Area at the end of June and early July. This is also the largest of the local lady’s slippers, with plants sometimes growing to a height of over two feet. It generally likes to grow in very wet, lightly shaded areas, often in the company of eastern white cedars – exactly what the Purdon Conservation Area has to offer, which helps to explain why this is the largest known colony of Showy Lady’s Slippers in Canada!

Please feel free to report any observations to to Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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