|With its flashy coloration and large size, Cypripedium reginae
is probably the most striking of Minnesota wildflowers.
It's reputation is no doubt enhanced by the fact that it
belongs to the orchid family, and the mystique of this relationship
only adds to the status of the plant in the popular mind. In part
this plant is relatively common in Minnesota compared with other
states, the plant was designated as our state flower by the Legislature
in 1902. The showy lady's-slipper was certainly present in much
Minnesota in 1902, but because of the increasing usage of the
southern part of the state for agriculture and urbanization, presently
most of the suitable habitat is found only here in the Northland.
Alas, here in Itasca County, the plants are frequently poached out of
roadside ditches, but fortunately in the swamps that are the true
natural habitat of the species, not only is human access difficult, but
digging the plants out from the tree roots among which the orchid roots
are entangled is nearly impossible.|
Like other orchids, the seeds of the showy lady's-slipper are very tiny, produced in large number, and are easily disbursed, and this fact makes the plant a real opportunist. The plant thrives in moist soil, so if seeds happen to fall on bare soil with the right fungi present to stimulate germination, and these conditions persist for an adequate number of successive growing seasons, a population of the plants may result. Recently disturbed roadside ditches are one such habitat, and large numbers of C. reginae are found along some highways in northern Minnesota. In late June and early July many tourists visit this part of the state to see and photograph the lady's-slippers in bloom. As I mentioned, some of the plants are poached, but another threat is the encroachment of woody vegetation or other plants too large or too aggressive for the orchids to compete.
The 2022 season was a great one for the C. reginae plants in our yard, and accordingly I took lots of photos.
|Weedy vegetation is also a threat to the
lady's-slippers in my yard, and I continually have to cut back or pull
the abundant ferns and native red raspberry that thrive in the same
habitat as the slippers.
Deer predation is another major threat to many of my plants especially the orchids. In the past I have resorted to encircling some plants with welded wire fencing, but my plants are now far too numerous for this. Currently my most successful means of deer-proofing plants is to spray them with a product called Liquid Fence® prepared from concentrate. Spraying individual plants with the foul smelling substance is time consuming, but after two or three applications early in the season, the product need only be reapplied after two or three weeks or a heavy rainstorm. For a couple days after application, the plants smell bad, but subsequently the odor is not noticeable to humans but apparently still is to the deer with their more sensitive noses. An added benefit of applying Liquid Fence® to the orchids is that it seems to keep the deer away from nearby plants that have not been sprayed, but if you want to be sure a plant is protected, you better spray it.
If you found this website by way of the Spangle Creek Labs portal, you probably noticed that I have been working for over 30 years now at propagating Cypripedium orchids in the lab. Indeed producing large numbers of Cyp seedlings and ultimately getting them into the ground either by myself or through customers for our seedlings has been what the Japanese call my ikigai, loosely translated as purpose in life. Thus you shouldn't be surprised to hear that practically all the photos of Cyp plants on these pages are of plants that I started from seeds in the lab.
|This is a view of a C. reginae
plantation along our driveway. When we moved in in 1997, the
driveway had a turnaround loop at its end near the garage. Much
of that loop was on low ground that was soft after spring snow melt or
heavy summer thunderstorms. Continuing to use that loop would
have required repeatedly dumping truckloads of fill material such as
"Class 5" aggregate, which consists of rocks, sand, and a little bit of
clay. As an alternative, we decided to close the low section of
the loop and get along without the turnaround. That is not a
problem with the small cars we drive that can easily be backed and
turned around in a small space, but we have closed the driveway to
large delivery vehicles. Since that time I have been planting
lady's-slippers and other wildflowers in the low soil along the driveway
as well as in the actual closed section of the turnaround, where the
orchids seem to have taken well to the mix of woods soil and Class 5
already present in the lane.
In addition to the orchids, this photo shows the ferns and New England aster plants that I must keep trimming back as well as Asarum canadense, wild ginger, near the center of the photo, that appeared as a volunteer near the clump of C. reginae The large orchid plant has no trouble coming up through the wild ginger in spring, but I cut it back to keep it from shading out the volunteer C. reginae seedlings nearby.
|The low ground previously surrounded by the
turnaround loop was a kind of "traffic island." This is a view of
part of that former traffic island.
| Another part of the traffic island Cyp plantation.
|View across the traffic island toward the driveway taken from the now-closed segment of the turnaround.
As soon as the lady's-slippers had finished blooming, I got to work
cutting back ferns. These are mostly lady ferns in this view, but
there are some sensitive ferns present, and they are particularly
aggressive. I pull up the long creeping sensitive fern rhizomes whenever possible.
|A view of a spot along the driveway with numerous C. reginae
volunteers appearing. The
volunteers seem to have no difficulty poking up through the moss, but
never do seedlings appear where there is larger vegetation. These
seedlings grow slowly from year to year, but some have made it to
blooming size over the course of five or more years. Germination
almost always occurs in soil made sandy by the Class 5 aggregate
applied to the driveway.
|This is a formal bed of C. reginae.
Notice the ostrich ferns in the background; I foolishly planted
some of them there. I had read somewhere in an artsy landscaping or
gardening blog about how beautiful lady's-slippers look when set off by
adjacent ostrich ferns. Big mistake! I've been cutting out
and digging up fern rhizomes ever since. It's a real effort to
keep the ostrich ferns out of this C. reginae bed.
| Here is another view of part of that formal bed.
Early summer is not
orchids; floral-wise there are many other things going on.
Some of those things aren't native to Minnesota like this group of
Gray's lilies, Lilium grayi,
that are here growing in a little artificial microbog on our septic
mound and photographed 5 July. These are some of my most prized
L. grayi is currently a rare plant growing only on high balds in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but it wasn't always so. In his 1985 book Growing and Propagating Wild Flowers, Harry R. Phillips wrote:
On a seed-collecting trip several years ago we came to a halt above a wet mountain meadow. Below us lay hundreds of Gray's Lilies bobbing above the meadow grasses. Once familiar in moist, sunny areas in the mountains, populations of Gray's Lily have been either completely eradicated or drastically reduced by development and agriculture. The area below us had remained intact only because the low area along the creek had been too wet to mow that season, and the plants had had an uninterrupted period of time in which to flower.
So how did I acquire these beautiful plants? Several years ago a friend in North Carolina sent me seed she collected in Avery County, North Carolina. The seed germinated and the seedlings grew successfully. As of 2022 I had about a couple dozen plants, some in this artificial bog, a few in plastic pots, and several that I'm hoping will establish in a low open area of my yard. As for cultural conditions, I have been using the same mix that I usually do for carnivorous plants, namely, 1:1 sand to chopped sphagnum peat, and I water the plants with rainwater acidified with vinegar at the rate of 1 oz./1 gal.
While L. grayi has become very rare in the wild and is considered threatened in every state where it occurs, I would love to see this beautiful species become widely available in the horticultural trade.
|Another view of the L. grayi on our septic mound. The
species is quite hardy here, but as with lady's-slippers and trilliums,
lilies must be sprayed with deer repellent to prevent predation.
|Most years the natural colonies of Lysimachia ciliata, fringed
loosestrife, constitute an inconspicuous constituent of the unkempt
edges of my woods, but in 2022, perhaps because of abundant spring
moisture, the plants went crazy with flowers. Here is a typical
display on 16 July. Indeed because of good moisture the plant
became aggressive in places.
|Around here the orchids aren't done in July. The Calopogon tuberosus,
grass pink, in our natural bog is in full bloom here this year on the
first of August. This is quite late as grass pinks in the
lakeside fen surrounding a small unnamed lake a couple miles south of
our house are much earlier. The difference is that those plants
get full sun all day long whereas the plants in our bog grow on the
west side of the forested part of the bog and thus get full sun for
only about half a day.
was a great year for blueberries in our bog. Like grass pink
orchids, blueberries do best with plenty of sunlight. In our bog
the bushes tend to grow best in dry years and take over habitat from
pitcher plants and orchids. In wet years, the forbs do better.
|And yes, our bog really does have pitcher plants: Sarracenia purpurea. The grass pink orchid on the right has rapidly developing seed capsules.
|By early September we have Gentian andrewsii, our native species of bottle gentian.
There are now lots of these in our yard. Aside from a couple that
I rescued from the roadside ditch/ORV trail along the county highway
that forms part of the border of our land, all my bottle gentian are
from seed, either that I've sown or was naturally scattered. There
are also a few late turtlehead flowers in this pic.
|There's a lot going on in this 11 September photo. Can you pick out the following?