Lady Slippers, Maine's Orchids

Maine has four species of lady's-slippers (Genus Cypripedium).  These include the pink lady's-slipperram's head lady's-slipperyellow lady's-slipper, and showy lady's-slipper.  Of the four species, two are rare on a state-wide basis:  the ram's head lady's-slipper and the showy lady's-slipper.  The ram's head lady's-slipper is also globally rare. Please see the Maine Department of Agriculture's Rare Plant List for the complete listing of all rare plants in Maine.

The lady's-slipper orchids are among the showiest orchids in the eastern United States and are vulnerable to collection. Lady's-slippers require highly specific habitats in order to grow, thus collecting them, even the common ones, is discouraged. Over-collecting of lady's-slippers could make even the common species rare over a short time period.

Lady's-slippers have a specific association with a beneficial fungus known as mycorrhizae. This fungus in the soil allows the lady's-slippers to obtain valuable nutrients and energy from organic matter that would otherwise be unattainable. This association is especially beneficial for the germination and seedling stage of lady's-slippers growth, allowing the seedlings to obtain more nutrients and energy than what are available from the tiny seed.

Pink lady's-slipper is the most common lady's-slipper in Maine. Blooming through June, it is typically found thinly scattered in the understory of dry, mixed woods and boggy areas. Pink lady's-slipper produces a pink (occasionally white), 1 to 3 inch long pouch-like flower that grows singly on a stalk emerging from 2 broad, fuzzy leaves at the base of the plant.