2022: Missouri – Orchids: Small White Lady’s Slippers.

Small White Lady’s Slippers Orchid (Cypripedium candidum) is native to eastern North America across the northern United States and southern Canada. This species was described by Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg ex Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1805.

Cypripedium candidum.

Conservation status: State Rank S1, Global Rank G4. An S1 ranking is: = Less than 6 EOs OR less than 1,000 individuals OR less than 2,000 acres A G4 ranking = apparently secure; this rank is clearly lower than G3 but factors exist to cause some
concern; i.e., there is some threat or somewhat narrow habitat. So finding the rare orchid is exhilarating.

It is found growing in prairies and damp meadows, bogs and fens on limestone and marl, often along railway lines, and in sheltered ravines, limestone barrens, swamps, on the edge of thickets, on dry rocky slopes, and in wet woods.

Habitat where the orchid was located.

Unfortunately, this once widespread and at least occasionally encountered species has suffered a drastic decline in population numbers. The primary reasons are habitat loss, invasive species, woody encroachment, and outright poaching.

Candidum means white. The plant’s white lip has purple veins. This orchid loves soaking up the sun and disappears in the presence of shade.

Cypripedium candidum cluster

A beautiful perennial orchid frequently growing in colonies. Flowers have three long, brown, twisted “flags” — the upright one being a sepal, the other two, on either side of the “slipper,” being two lateral petals. The bright yellow slipper, or lip, is a third, modified petal. The petal-like structure behind the lip is actually a pair of fused sepals. Thus there are 3 sepals and 3 petals. Blooms April–June. Leaves broad, prominently parallel-veined, clasp the stem, to 6 inches long, sharply pointed, hairy.

Cypripedium candidum – Leaf, stems, petals and sepal

One of the smallest lady slipper orchids in North America, if not the smallest. The distinct pouch does kinda look like a lady’s slipper.

Cypripedium candidum – looks like a slipper.

The deceptive-looking pouch is key to pollen propagation strategy, as it offers zero rewards to pollinators, it uses its bright coloration and pungent odors to attract insects to its column. The non-suspecting insect will fly in expecting a meal, then get trapped in the pouch, once inside there are guiding stripes, towards the back of the pouch, which leads to a series of small translucent cells, which act as windows. The insects are naturally drawn to the light, but to get to the light, they must travel down tubes laden with pollen sacs. Orchids are a pinnacle of the coevolution between flowers and pollinators. To acquire nectar, insects (mostly bees) must follow a labyrinthine obstacle course through the flower, providing the necessary cross-pollination in the process. Then, the seeds require a symbiotic fungus to survive.

I could not have done this alone, big thanks to OzarkBill and Pete. Both men are highly knowledgeable field botanist, in my honest opinion.

Pete running “Grip” an umbrella used to diffuse light
OzarkBill getting ready to begin his masterpiece composition

Until the next adventure and thank you for stopping by!

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  1. A perfect blend of art, science and comradeship, Miguel. I’m happy you joined us for a plant trip. That was quite a day!

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