Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Yellow Lady's Slipper

If there is a signature plant for our garden, it is the large yellow lady's slipper orchid, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. Over the years, and through a couple of gardens, it has been steadily multiplying, so that we now have about 35 stalks. Planted shallowly in loose, duffy soil, it has been carefree and beautiful.
About forty years ago I was in medical school here in Iowa City, and used to wander the beautiful woods and fields looking at birds and flowers. Once, and once only, when I was walking down a cool, damp ravine I came across a yellow lady's slipper in full bloom. After graduating from medical school, heading first to San Francisco, then back to Iowa to a city eighty miles north of here, I now find myself retired back where it all started, in Iowa City. From time to time I think about that yellow lady's slipper I saw many years ago, but I've never been able to find the spot again. I know there was what seemed to be a small radio station at the edge of the woods, but I've described this to many old-timers and never gotten an answer. Likely the woods is gone and it's now a housing addition, but I like to think that yellow lady's slipper is still blooming there, hidden in a damp ravine, like a small unicorn; I can see it still in my mind's eye, and when I wander our garden's pathways, and marvel at the healthy clumps of cypripediums now blooming, I wish the yellow lady's slipper in the woods well.

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Don, that's a great story about your first encounter w/a lady slipper! It sounds like you've really done your part to make sure they continue to exist in the local woodlands. Hats off for your many efforts to maintain what I understand has been a long time Iowa native!

btw... is that a Primula sieboldii blooming in the background of the first photo?
IVG... thanks for your feedback! BTW... yup, sieboldii in a lovely deep purple.
Wow! And aren't they gorgeous??? I've never encountered them in the wild. And to see that number of them would be a treat! :-)
They are beautiful. Maine is supposed to have them, but I have never seen a yellow one. I enjoyed reading the story about seeing your first yellow lady slipper.
Shady and GP... hopefully next year I'll have about fifty of them.
When you have fifty, let me know when the plant sale starts! :-)
Hello Don,

How perfectly elegant to have a Yellow Lady's Slipper for one's signature plant!

In Austin MSS/Zanthan's plant is Oxblood Lilies and Pam/Digging has Purple Coneflowers, both of which I love, but your Cypripedium has the

additional charm of the rare and unattainable.

We came to this garden less than 4 years ago - might be too soon to have a signature plant.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
Don your garden is amazing!!
I always wanted yellow lady slipper and I finally order 2 noses this year, they will be arriving at the end of April, I was wondering if you know the type of soil and everything I need for them to suvive, I saw from different websites that I need a sandy and if you could please tell me what else I need and where to get from? Thank you
Anony... the yellow ladyslipper is actually fairly easy to grow. It does like loose, slightly sandy soil. I use a mix of compost and a little sand. The really important things are: loose soil with good drainage, and shallow planting. It likes to spread its roots out just below the surface in the forest litter. Good luck!
Hello Don,

I love your garden its beautiful!

I have a question and I was wondering if you could please help me.
This year my husband got me my first yellow lady slipper from a rescue in Minnesota, I did everything I was suppose to do in regards to the soil, the PH was fine.
She grew beautifully and 3 weeks ago she bloomed, I can not tell you how happy I was, now the flower seems to be weak and has brown spots, Is this normal? We had lots of rain and I'm worried, or is it that she is done with the blooming period?

Any help would be greatly appreciated

Susan... It's not uncommon to get a little browning of yellow ladyslipper foliage after blooming, but a lot is worrisome.
Two considerations: first is your drainage really good? It likes really loose, humusy soil (a little sand is good, too) and will NOT tolerate a low, wet spot (mine are all planted on hillsides). Second, the roots could have gotten damaged in digging it up (nothing you can do about that). Also, it doesn't like hot afternoon sun for very long. You did plant the roots real shallow? Sometimes they will dig up the roots, and stuff them in a pot with the roots all too deep, and pointing down, like you would plant an ordinary perennial; you dutifully plant it in the ground that way (maybe even a little deeper), and the plant slowly dies from its roots being too deep. They like to be spread out flat, just under a humusy layer.
Susan... I'd add, that if there is any question about any of these factors, in the fall, I'd dig the roots up after the foliage dies (careful; don't damage any of them... I use a flat shovel under the whole area, gently pry up the whole thing, rinse dirt off with garden hose); replant as noted.

Thank you so very much for your help, I'm located in Des Moines IA and we had rain for a few days, after reading your email I went to check the soil and yes it is very wet, also My problem is that I have clay type of soil, so when I got the yellow lady slipper I dug 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide and added the soil, compost and all that good stuff, I made sure that she was in a roomy space and that her roots were spread apart and tips gently pushed down she was doing great! she grew just fine and bloomed, then a week ago I noticed some brown spots on the flower and she doesn't look like she did before, I thought she was done blooming like other plants and the flower falls off, like you said I do think is because the soil is too wet and and drainage may take longer, Do you think I should dig her out? think of it I do have a hill side I can plant her in.

Thank you again for your help and your time

Do you have a better soil recipe for yellow lady slippers? I did a lot of research before I got my beautiful baby.
Some people say they like it a bit acidic soil others say they like a PH higher then 7.5

Again thank you so much for your prompt reply!!
Susan... well, the flower will turn brown and fall off after maybe two weeks of bloom (only flowers once a year), and the foliage does get a little ratty looking after bloom, with often some brown patches or streaks; it may be ok; sounds like you did everything right, though drainage may still be an issue. I dunno, maybe just keep your fingers crossed. It loves north or east facing hillsides with afternoon dappled shade.
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