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kathy's picture
Cypripedium reginae

There are five genera of lady slippers. I have covered Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium. I have never seen and do not grow Mexipedium, which has only one species, a miniature from- you guessed it- Mexico, and Selinopedium containing six species with small green flowers on giant six foot plants. This leaves the Cypripedium.

At one time, all lady slippers were classified as Cypripediums. Now, the genus is confined to those lady slippers that grow in the cooler regions of North America, Europe and Asia. I have tried growing these orchids that combine my love of gardening with my love of growing orchids without much success until the past few years. This coincided with the ability of some growers (not me) to grow them from seed. This has also lowered the price of the plants considerably as well, and as you can imagine set off another breeding frenzy but still not among the growers. It also means that clones that grow better under gardening conditions tend to be selected.

The New England Wild Flower Society sells species and hybrids all grown from seeds. They have a garden in Framingham and an outlet in Whately, MA.

My present collection started with a plant from Bill Hutchinson (Cypripedium Japonicum). I started with a one growth division and I planted it in a shady spot in a raised bed. It doubled or tripled in size each year until the bed collapsed and I had to move about half of the plants. I planted some in a much sunnier spot and put two pieces in pots. The plants in the pots did not multiply and I sold one and planted the other piece elsewhere in the garden. They all appear to be doing well. This species does not appear to be too fussy. Since these have done well, and since you may have noticed that I like to grow weird things, I have purchased several other species and hybrids.

I purchased Cypripedium parviflorum from a speaker at one of our monthly meetings a few years ago. He grows all of his orchids in a gravely mixture and his pictures were spectacular. I planted it in the mixture but the plant still has only one growth after a few years and is the last to emerge and the first to turn brown, not a good sign.

The other plants grow in a raised bed in very sandy soil. The plants are in full sun in the morning until noon and then dappled shade. Different clones seem to do better than others. Cypripedium Michael (macranthos x henryi), had 20 growths this year and most had 2 flowers on a growth. Cypripedium Gisela (macranthos x parviflorum) has only one growth a year. They were planted the same time two feet apart.

I think the species look better than the hybrids. The colors seem to be clearer. However, hybrids are reportedly easier to grow.

I apply lime to the yellow species (parviflorum, pubescens, and kentuckiense) since my soil is very acidic. Wild blueberries grow in my back yard.

Most Cypripedium grow in tight clumps, but Cypripedium Japonicum is a spreader and is probably not suited for pot culture. The original clump now measures a couple of feet across and had 30 growths with 20 flowers this year. The plant has beautiful large fan shaped leaves and is quite attractive out of flower, which is just as well since its flower has the same size and shape of our native pink lady slipper but not the beautiful color. It is very pale.

Cypripedium reginae is a probably the most beautiful species. It grows up to 2 ½ feet tall with 1 to 2 flowers measuring about 2 inches. The flowers are white with a red or pink pouch. Pure white clones are available as well. They require more water than most and Bill Hutchinson had beautiful plants growing in an artificial bog.

I cannot find any information about when is the best time to divide these plants. I split the 20 growth hybrid in half early this past spring. I left half in the ground and split the half out of the ground. I sprinkled the cut parts with cinnamon (reportedly a natural fungicide). All 3 pieces flowered and appeared well. One piece is still in a pot. Hopefully I can bring it in this spring.

One last note, unless the area is about to be bulldozed, do not remove species from the wild.

Photo: Cypripedium reginae by COL. 

1 comment

Jo's picture

by Jo on Thu, 01/14/2016 - 22:27

What a fantastic article!  Thanks.