Pink Lady's-slipper

Cypripedium acaule. Like many other orchids, the Pink Lady’s-slipper or “Moccasin Flower” manipulates insects to pollinate its flowers and produce viable seed. The flower color, vein-like lines and its shape— including the dangling sepals — are all designed to attract bees to enter the labellum or “slipper” through an opening in the top. In the process, past pollen is raked off and new pollen is pasted onto the “captured” bee as it moves through the slipper in one direction — angled hairs discourage its trying to leave the same way it entered. Finally, it reaches and squeezes through a small opening in the rear. For the bee, it’s an exhausting operation and discourages visiting a second lady’s-slipper. In fact, a University of Maryland botanist, who studied about 3,000 Pink Lady’s-slippers in a national forest, found that, over 16 years, about 1,000 of the plants flowered. Of those, a mere 23 were successfully pollinated! How can a species survive with so few seed-producing flowers? Since the average life span of these plants is 20 years, and some may live for a century and a half, lady’s-slippers have a long time to turn out one successful flower. And once pollinated, that flower could generate up to 60,000 seeds!

Click here to return to the previous page