Spring Wildflowers

The warmer weather of spring will bring out an array of wildflowers. Many species will herald spring’s arrival. Among the most beautiful are the Lady’s Slippers. These members of the genus Cypripedium are some of the best known and most loved members of the orchid family. This genus is represented by 45 species worldwide with 12 of those existing in North America. Counting hybrids would increase these numbers greatly. For the Eastern United States, six species including three variations within one species totaling eight separate entities have often been described.

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Pink Lady’s Slipper

Pink Lady’s Slipper or Stemless Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), is one of the more frequently encountered species. A widely recognized orchid, finding Pink Lady’s Slipper is a mainstay of spring wildflower outings. In Latin, the specific name “acaule” means “without stem.” Inhabiting much of the eastern third of the U.S., these mid-spring beauties seem to prefer oak-pine woods in dryer areas, although they are sometimes found in wet boggy areas.

 

Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper

Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) is a strictly northern species. This is an extremely rare and highly unusual Cypripedium. In Latin, arietinum means “like a ram”, an apparent reference to the shape of the flower. Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper’s range extends from Canada south only as far as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and east to New York and New England. Flowers are typically small and solitary.

 

White Lady’s Slipper

Predominantly a more northerly species, the extremely rare White Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium candidum) has a range extending from Canada south to Nebraska and Missouri and East to isolated spots in Kentucky and Virginia, and disjointedly to a very limited area in northern Alabama. The specific name has a Latin origin meaning “white” or “shining” referring to the predominant color of the pouch.

 

Kentucky Lady’s Slipper, Southern Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium kentuckiense) is a species known from several sites throughout its range covering about ten states. One of the largest Cypripedium of the Eastern United States, this pale-yellow flowered orchid is impressive in appearance. The specific name was drawn from the state where it was originally discovered.

 

Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) has a range extending from Alaska south throughout much of Canada and extending eastward into much of the eastern half of the U.S. Habitat is typically rich moist forests, openings and moist areas along roadsides. An individual plant may have one or sometimes two flowers. In some locations plants group to form large showy clumps.

 

Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper

For the Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum) small flowers are a principal characteristic that separates it from Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper. The flowers of Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper are sometimes less than one inch in length. In areas where the range of Large and Small Lady’s Slipper overlap, distinguishing between species may be difficult. A more northerly variation of Small Yellow Lady’s Slipper is Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin.

 

Showy Lady’s Slipper

Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) is one of the most flamboyant members of this genus. This Cypripedium certainly earns its specific name meaning “queenly.” Although reportedly found in isolated spots as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina, this plant is truly a northeastern species with a range covering much of the upper east quadrant of the U.S., and extending north into southern Canada. Preferred habitats are wet areas, such as bogs, swamps, moist woods, and roadside seeps.