This week we have a very special plant, Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium Acaule)! This was the first time I have actually found this plant in the wild. Now that I have found it flowering I realize of course that I have passed by it many times and wondered what those strange leaves were.
Pink lady’s slipper is often thought to be endangered, but is actually doing just fine as a species. There are portions of it’s range where it is very rare, and some states list it as endangered, however in general it is doing just fine. It is not an especially noticeable plant when out of bloom so even people in the forests frequently may rarely see it.
Truthfully though, the fact that pink lady’s slippers exists is completely shocking when you learn how they reproduce. To begin with, they require unusually acidic soil with a pH of 4.5-5 ideally. The are fertilized by bees, and produce a seed, but unlike most other plants, this seed does not contain the energy required to sprout. To sprout the seed requires the threads of a certain fungus to break it open and then feed it. The fungus feeds the seed until the lady’s slipper has grown enough to produce it’s own energy. Then the fungus hangs around and feeds off the roots of the lady’s slipper, which is really a pretty good deal for the fungus as a lady’s slipper can live for over 20 years.
Pink lady’s slipper does have legitimate medicinal uses, similar to other varieties of lady’s slipper which were used historically in Europe. It’s roots have been used to treat nervousness, tooth pain, muscle spasms, and as a sedative. All of these conditions however can be treated more effectively with other more readily available and sustainable plants. So while interesting from a historical perspective, pink lady’s slipper is not typically used in herbal medicine today.