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Lady's Slippers

Lilacs and Lupins are flowering, so it’s time to look for Lady’s Slippers (my Three L Rule). That means it’s also time for my annual mission to correct misinformation and spread the word about PEI’s Provincial flower, the Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule, Photo 1).

Photo 1: PEI's Provincial flower, the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule).

I’ve already seen posts talking about Lady’s Slippers as “endangered”, with “hefty fines” for picking them. Nope and nope! Our Pink Lady’s Slipper is common across the province and is not a protected species. While it’s not illegal, there are several reasons why you shouldn’t pick this orchid.

First, it doesn’t last long as a cut flower and so it’s a shame to waste the delicate blossoms for that purpose. Second, each flower can produce as many as 20,000 seeds. While only a small percentage of those will germinate, that’s still a lot of potential future Lady’s Slippers removed by picking just a few. Next, like many orchids Lady’s Slippers have a symbiotic relationship with specific fungi in the soil (Rhizoctonia spp. in this case) which makes them very hard to transplant. I know people who have done this successfully, but it takes both expertise and luck; few people have both. Finally, Lady’s Slippers contain a chemical (cypripedin) that can cause rashes and blisters. Don’t take the chance that you are among those who are sensitive to this compound: look but don’t touch.

Photo 2: The white form of Pink Lady's Slipper.

While the Pink Lady’s Slipper is famous here on PEI, we actually have three different species. Our Provincial flower is one species that comes in two colours: Pink (Photo 1) and White (Photo 2). I haven’t done a scientific study, but estimate I see about 10 pink Lady’s Slippers for every white one.

Photo 3: Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae).

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae, Photo 3) is much less common than Pink and flowers later, usually early July. It has a leafy stem and unmistakeable pink and white flowers; I find it in rich, moist forests. Our rarest species is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum, Photo 4). This is my favourite, and I find it and its striking yellow flowers mainly in cedar swamps.

Photo 4: Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum).

Showy Lady’s Slipper was originally named PEI’s Provincial flower in 1947, before being replaced by the far more common Pink Lady’s Slipper in 1965. Even though this happened nearly two generations ago, I expect it’s why many people mistakenly believe our Provincial flower is rare.

Enjoy our Three Ls: Lilacs, Lupins, and – especially – Lady’s Slippers. All parts of PEI untamed!

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