Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pink Lady's Slipper Orchids


My search for wild pink lady's slipper orchids in the New Jersey Pine Barrens has paid off.

Behold! Click to enlarge.

Pink lady's slippers are also called moccasin flowers, American valerian, and squirrel shoes.

Like many orchids, the pink lady's slipper has a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus. The fungus provides nutrients to the plant's seeds and helps them germinate. When the plant becomes photosynthetic, it provides nutrients to the fungus. Fair deal.

Bees pollinate the flowers, but receive no reward. They are attracted to the color and the sweet aroma of the flower. They expect nectar. But when a bee enters the flower pouch through the slit in the front, not only is there no nectar -- it can't back out. To reach an exit, it has to squeeze past the flower's female reproductive structure, the stigma. If the bee has been inside other blossoms, pollen on its body is deposited on the stigma, pollinating it. The bee also has to squeeze past a pollen mass, where it receives a new dusting of pollen to carry to the next flower. Tricky!

According to the U.S. Forest Service, a pink lady's slipper orchid plant can live for 20 years or more. They are unlikely to survive transplanting.

Pink lady's slipper are blooming now through mid-June in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Get out there and find them. 

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