Other names: moccasin flower
Family: Orchidaceae (Orchids)
Range: Eastern third of the US from the Great Lakes to the Northeast, and down the Appalachians to Alabama. It’s in every Canadian province except British Columbia. In Georgia, New York, Illinois and Tennessee, it’s in some sort of watched or endangered status.
Native Habitat: Most common in dry, pine forests, but can be found in other forest types.
Bloom Time: April to July
Cypripedium derives from the Latin for Venus’ slipper.
My mother grew up in the mountains of western Maine, and this flower is a distinct and special part of her memories of growing up and playing in the woods there. I’m a city girl, so I have to travel to find these, and since my mother’s family is now gone from the village where she grew up, the easiest place for me to find them is at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. While there are several places the garden staff will direct you to see the flowers, they’re actually fairly easy to find when they’re in season – even popping up in the woods next to the parking lot.
The first thing that comes to my mind about lady slippers is a long standing admonition to never pick them. They take time, and very particular conditions, to germinate, and you’re likely killing any flower you pick.
The other thing I love about this flower is that it’s an orchid. Most people probably think of orchids as tropical plants, but they do range around the world, and it’s nice to have our own member of that family. (Orchidaceae is one of the two largest flowering plant species, along with Asteraceae.)
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