Yellow Lady's-slipper

Cypripedium parviflorum. The Yellow Lady’s-slipper has a hard time getting started in life and, once established, has a hard time staying alive. While this orchid is found in most of North America, it is particularly fussy about exactly where it lives, favoring woods that tend to be moist and loamy. The flowers are not often fertilized, and when they are, the resulting seed must have the right “friends” in the soil to sprout. A Cypripedium seed is tiny and, unlike most seeds we are familiar with,  contains no food. The seed needs to connect with the subterranean threads of a Rhizoctonia fungus. If things balance out just right, the fungus digests the outside of the orchid seed, but leaves inner cells untouched. The orchid seed joins with the fungus and starts absorbing nutrients the fungus obtained from the soil. Not until this happens can the seed germinate and begin growing. The symbiosis doesn’t end there. For the infant corm to obtain minerals and other soil foods, it must continue to use the “go-between” services of the Rhizoctonia fungus. The fungus, in turn, takes from the seedling foods that the young Lady’s-slipper leaves have photosynthetically manufactured. Such sensitive and complex relationships make native orchids of all kinds relatively uncommon, and growing them from seed requires a real expert. What’s more, in the wild it can take 10 or more years for a Lady’s-slipper orchid to be strong enough to bloom. If those aren’t tough enough survival odds, there are the deer. In a few seconds, a White-tailed Deer can gobble down a Lady’s-slipper that took years to grow. This has become a major problem in the East where burgeoning deer populations have been devastating many native wildflowers — especially Yellow and Pink Lady’s-slippers.

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