These delicate North American natives, now considered endangered in Canada and
rare or endangered in many parts of the United States, appear
occasionally in the woods near our camp on Sebago Lake in Maine. As children, coming upon one in the
woods was a magical experience. The flowers are stunningly beautiful, yet fragile looking. We
knew they were rare and could not be transplanted. (Now botanists know that transplantation
fails because lady’s slippers
have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil.) We never dreamed of picking them or disturbing
them. We simply admired them as they are and gave them a wide berth.
Plants: Plants consist of two long narrow leaves
coming directly from the ground (basal), with a central flower stalk.
Leaves: The two dark green leaves
are each about 6-12" (15-30 cm) long and 1-2" (2.5-5 cm) wide.
They have parallel veins.
Flowers: A bare stalk supports a single delicate, pink, slipper-shaped
flower, 1½-2" (3.8-5 cm) long and about ¾" (1.9 cm) around at its widest point. The color
can range from nearly white to dark pink. There is an opening at the top of the flower, completing
the resemblance to a slipper. (Cypripedium is Greek for “Aphrodite’s shoe.”) A “cap,”
composed of a modified leaf and two sepals, appears over the flower.