Design

It’s Not Called the Queen of the Woodlands for No Reason

Photo: Bill Johnson

Name: Showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae)

Zones: 2–7

Size: 18 to 24 inches tall and 12 to 14 inches wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Eastern United States

Discovering any native terrestrial orchid in the wild is always a thrill for me. These hardy, exotic plants with their tropical-looking flowers seem like they belong on a sultry, warm island rather than in temperate climes. Some of the most stunning native orchids belong to the genus Cypripedium, with 11 species native to the United States. A jewel of the northeastern United States is the showy lady’s slipper. The species name reginae is Latin for “of the queen,” and this lady’s slipper certainly deserves that designation. In late spring or early summer, this beauty showcases elegant flowers of gleaming white sepals and contrasting pink “slippers” that sit atop stems clothed with three to six pubescent leaves. Soils that are consistently moist but not waterlogged, with close to a neutral pH, are required for success with this species. Happy plants will slowly form impressive clumps, spreading via shallow rhizomes.

Patience is necessary for those of us lusting for showy lady’s slipper, as it can often take eight years or more for plants to reach flowering maturity from seed. While Itypically enjoy watching plants grow to maturity, when it comes to lady’s slippers and their amazing blooms, I need to have immediate satisfaction. This of course means spending more money on nursery-grown, mature clumps. I’m admittedly concerned that if I’m successful growing C. reginae, this will result in unbridled confidence in my ability to grow other species—which given the price tag on these plants will lead to an empty wallet! That is espe­cially true given the numerous gorgeous hybrids now available. My hope is that the use of in-vitro propagation techniques will result in increased availability and lower prices for these beautiful, hardy orchids.

Back to collection

Photo: Bill Johnson

The Expert: Andy Brand is the plant curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.

From Fine Gardening #193

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