Growing up in Florida, I have appreciated how we are home to a wealth of orchid species found nowhere else in the country. That does not mean, however, that other states in the Union don't have equally as lovely (and sometimes even lovelier) orchids that grow only outside our state boundaries. One such orchid is one that I have wanted to see in person for decades as I have salivated over photographs of it in flower...Cypripedium acaule or the Pink Ladyslipper, also known as the Moccasin Flower.
This species is still relatively common throughout a large swathe of the eastern US and Canada, being found typically in pine forests where the pine needle litter tends to keep the soil quite acidic. Without this acid soil, this plant will quite often succumb within a few years, while plants in the their native environs will last for decades. These orchids, therefore, do not make good garden plants and are best left to be enjoyed in the wild.
With the help of some on-line orchid colleagues, I was able finally to observe this species in situ in a park to the southwest of Atlanta, Georgia. They were everything I hoped they would be and more. The flowers themselves ranged in size from having pouches about 1.5 inches long to close to 3 inches long. I am guessing the larger flowers belonged to older, more robust plants, while the smaller flowers must have belonged to plants just a few years old. One surprising characteristic was their sweet scent, reminding me of the scent of citrus blossoms.
In this, however, these flowers can be deceiving. They offer no nectar or pollen as a reward to their pollinators. Instead, pollinating insects end up entering the pouch-shaped lip through what is essentially a one-way valve. The only escape is to climb a ladder of upward-pointing hairs going up the backside of the flower. This path leads out underneath the waiting pollen masses and/or stigmatic surface of the column. The hapless insects who escape this trap end up dispersing pollen to other nearby flowers. Not all insects do escape, leading to small collections of dead insect corpses in the bottom of the pouch of some flowers.
It was certainly the thrill of a lifetime to stand on that remote hillside beneath the pines and observe hundreds of plants in various stages of bud. Only a few flowers were open, but that was enough for me to take some really pleasing photographs, if I do say so myself
In any case, here are some of the photos from that day (click each image to see a larger display):