One of our most interesting wild flowers is the Lady’s Slipper − a variety of the wild orchid family − which is named for its shoe-shaped blossoms. There are six distinct species of Lady’s Slippers in Manitoba, as well as a couple of recently discovered hybrids. They range from quite common varieties, to fairly rare ones, with one variety classed as endangered. Some begin blooming in late May but most flower in June or early July.
The most common variety is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper, of which there are two sub-varieties – Northern Small and Large Yellow – though casual observers may not notice the difference. The size of the pouch and the stripes on it vary, as does the flower’s fragrance. The Yellow Lady’s Slipper grows in a wide variety of habitat – meadows, forests, Black Spruce and Tamarack bogs, as well as in disturbed areas such as roadside ditches. They may grow as single plants about 20-40 cm tall or, if the environment is suitable, may develop into large clumps.
Another lovely variety is the Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower, found throughout the central forested part of the province, particularly in the jack pine forests of eastern Manitoba. This is the variety which is the provincial flower of P.E.I. and is the only Manitoba variety where the complete slipper is bright pink.
The most spectacular variety – and the one I really love − is the Showy Lady’s Slipper. This type may reach a height of 80 cm, topped by one to three large blossoms. The lip is a bright rose colour with the sepals and petals a showy white. It blooms a little later than other varieties, usually in late June or early July, and prefers a wetter habitat, often in bogs and forests, though it will also grow in roadside ditches. A white-flowered form of the Showy Lady’s-slipper was recently discovered in the Brokenhead Ecological Reserve.
Another variety, a fairly rare one, is the Ram’s-head Lady’s Slipper which grows in the northern Interlake. It is found in jack pine and spruce forests as well as sphagnum bogs. It is somewhat more inconspicuous, with darker pink flowers that tend to blend in against the forest floor.
The Small White Lady’s Slipper is a much rarer variety; since 1992 it has been designated by Manitoba as “Endangered”. It is found in unbroken prairies and wet meadows, in three main locations. The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve of southern Manitoba has the most with about 24 patches of varying sizes which are regularly monitored. Smaller populations are found in the southern Interlake and in the vicinity of Brandon. This variety blooms earlier than the others, in late May to early June, which makes it more susceptible to frost. It is also very slow growing and may take up to twelve years to reach maturity.
The only Lady’s Slipper found in northern Manitoba is the Franklin’s Lady Slipper, named after the explorer who first recorded it in 1920. The small flowers are a spotted white and are found in damp meadows around Churchill, as well as a few spots farther south. One colony is even reported in the Duck Mountains.
All varieties of Lady’s Slippers are slow growing plants and may take years before they flower. The Small White Lady’s Slipper is of particular concern, due to shrinking habitat and dwindling populations.
Please don’t try moving any of the varieties unless their habitat is being destroyed for a highway or cottage development. They are NOT easily transplanted because they have very specific habitat and soil requirements, and do not adapt well to other conditions. They may live for a year or so but will then die. Enjoy them in the wild, but let them live there!
Some nurseries have lady’s slippers for sale, so if you want some, buy them there. (You can locate these on the Internet.) However, it may take six to ten years to propagate Lady’s Slippers from seed, so they are expensive, usually $30-$50 per plant. Be cautious, for anyone selling them cheaply may be digging up wild ones.
In Manitoba, the Native Orchid Conservation Inc. is dedicated to promoting awareness of all Manitoba’s native orchids, and to help in their conservation. Their website is: www.nativeorchid.org/ Nature Manitoba also has more information on Manitoba’s wild flowers. Their website is: naturemanitoba.ca
Reprinted from the Manitoba Co-operator by permission (…with thanks to…) author Donna Gamache (2011)
P.S. Less than a hundred years ago, Lady Slippers of ALL types and species could be found by the 1000’s in our ditches and un-touched meadows and pastures. I personally remember several 100’s growing in ditches all around me. AND…Agriculture Canada tells US that they greatly discourage us to pick OR transport home any species because of the endangerment it would cause to the plant.
SO!…..it had come to my attention that our very own Municipal Weed Control Specialists have been dosing/dumping herbicides by the tank loads onto our beautiful lady slippers for MANY, MANY years! …All in the name of controlling “so called weeds“…THEY say…at the REQUEST of local farmers! Really???!!!
What is real damming about this…is that they are doing it RIGHT when the slippers are still BLOOMING! Furthermore…A herbicide works best on a WEED when it is returning its energy to it root system, in the late summer, thus carrying the (poison) back down with it. That is when the greatest result will be achieved. The irony to this all…the weed spraying program REALLY needs to be delayed till AFTER the Lady Slipper’s flowers and leaves have dried up! That would need to be only 2 more weeks!
WE need ALL to speak up (as I have!) to make our Municipal Weed Control Specialists aware about our absolute distaste and their disregard for OUR rare and endangered species such as these beautiful and wonderful Lady Slippers.
And soooo…I have said my piece!