My day was bookmarked by slippers so beautiful that I think Cinderella would trade in her glass shoes for one of these. The question is–which one?
A young friend who has made it his career to search the woods for orchids and fungi introduced a small group of us to these this morning. I’d met this variety previously, but not in this particular location. We oohed and aahed as we encircled the plant–paying reverence. Though we didn’t curtsy, our respect was tinged with awe.
Members of the Orchid family, lady’s slippers feature the typical three petals in an atypical fashion. The pouch (or slipper or moccasin), called the labellum, is actually one petal–inflated and veined.
With a purplish tint, the petals and sepals twist and turn offering their own take on a ballroom dance. From every angle, it’s simply elegant.
Peeking inside, we noticed the runway–meant to attract pollinators.
Bees follow the runway into the inflated lip, where they quickly discover that neither pollen nor nectar are available. Because of the one-way opening, their exit is not easy.
In order to escape, they must depart through the back of the lip, where they brush against the stigma and deposit pollen from a nearby flower visited previously. Simultaneously, as is the way with flowers, the bee picks up a new pollen packet from the anthers to share with other flowers. Due to the lack of nectar, however, bees don’t frequent the species and few lady’s slippers produce fruit. I didn’t see a single bee near this beauty.
This afternoon I was invited to spend some time visiting friends and exploring their property where pink lady’s slippers bloom prolifically. While the yellow shoe is situated parallel to the ground, the pink shoe dangles downward. Overall, it reminds me of a lady holding out her skirt as she bows before the queen.
It’s a symbiotic relationship with a fungi that helps the lady’s slipper germinate. And then, it still takes a few years for the germinated seed to produce leaves and about 3-5 years before it produces a flower. Once established, however, it may live for 20-30 years or more.
And do you see what I see? To the right of this particular flower? A woody pod. A seed pod, indeed. And a rare find.
Despite the lack of pollinators and fruits, a single capsule contains thousands of seeds. The presence of lady’s slippers indicates rich soil.
So which slipper do you think Cinderella would choose? Though I’ll never consider the pink as ordinary, I’ve a feeling the golden slipper would be the one that fits her best.