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The Lady's Slipper is one of the few flowers which has been named for the shape of its blossom. Cypripedium, the scientific name for this flower, actually means venus slipper in Greek. The common name changes it to Lady's Slipper and with an great deal of imagination one can see how this is applicable. This plant is a species of the orchid family. It requires an acidic soil which is why most are seen in the humus rich areas of oak or pine forest.
Much like the family it comes from, which has an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 members, Lady's Slipper can survive in places from the tropics to the arctic tundra, but the greatest number of these flowers that are not grown in greenhouses exist in the warmer climates. Lady's Slipper is undoubtedly the best known of the twenty one genera of native orchids which grow in the eastern half of North America. This flower is so revered that in some states where it is rare it is protected by law from anyone who would choose to pick it.
Of the varieties of Lady's Slipper, one is the Pink Lady's Slipper or more commonly the moccasin flower. This variety is the most common and is found in more areas of the country. The Yellow Lady's Slipper is recognized by its yellow slipper and comes in three different varieties including one of the most spectacular of the species. This variety is called the Showy Lady's Slipper and it grows in peat bogs and calcareous swamps.
Lady's Slipper will produce one or two large, showy flowers, each having four long, twisted, petals streaked with purple. The fruits of this flower are brown capsules. It is a perennial plant with an underground stem which it produces a single flowering stem and three to four large ovate leaves each year. They can grow up to 8 inches long with pointed tips and prominent ribs. Usually found in rich moist woods and mossy bogs, the Lady's Slipper is most commonly seen in Canada and the majority of the United States with the exception of California where only the yellow and brown species will grow. Although it is sometimes found in mountain areas of the south, it is rare in these areas.
The flower has an intriguing blossom, the Lady's Slipper has other interesting facets. The fruit from this flower matures in the ribbed green area just behind the petals and sepals. When the flower has been pollinated, the fruit begins to elongate and by the end of summer it reaches 1 1\2 inches in length. At this time it will appear almond shaped and sport three prominent ribs down its length. As the fruit dries the ribs split free from the other portions and create narrow slits which allows the minute seeds to sift out into the wind.
The seeds of these and all orchid plants do not develope like those of other plants. They carry little nutrition inside and when they germinate tend to form minute, swollen, corn like structures. This developes only after it is joined by a species of fungus that supplies it with nutrients which may take up to two or more years.