Showy ladyslipper is our largest native orchid. It grows to 40 cm tall in clearings in cedar-tamarack swamps, bogs and fens.
It prefers alkaline conditions but occurs in Sphagnum bogs when the rhizome and fibrous roots can penetrate the acidic moss layer to more alkaline soil below.
The ladyslipper orchids (Cypripedium) all have the lower petal modified into a sac. Like yellow ladyslipper, C. parviflorum, showy ladyslipper has 3 to 5 strongly ribbed, oval and pointed leaves that
clasp the stem. Showy ladyslipper leaves are larger, 15 to 25 cm long, and the stem and leaves are more hairy. The hairs of both species can be a skin irritant causing a rash similar to poison ivy.
Flowers are bee pollinated and bloom from early June to mid-July once plants are four to five years old. The petal that forms the sac, up to 5 cm long, is white flushed with pink. Two other petals off to
the sides are waxy white. Three sepals sit behind the petals and are also white, but broader than the petals, and are usually fused so there appear to be only two.
Like all the orchids, the fruit is a capsule with many minute seeds. Germination requires soil disturbance and sunlight so that large populations may occur in areas that are habitually browsed by deer.
Showy ladyslipper is a Wisconsin Special Concern species and the state flower of Minnesota.
Like most native orchids, this one suffers from habitat loss, picking and well-intentioned gardeners who try, usually unsuccessfully, to transplant wild plants. You can purchase native orchids from many
nurseries that grow them from seed or by cloning. See WI Natural Resources Magazine for more info on cultivating native orchids.
Origin of the name: Cypripedium, Aphrodite’s foot; Kypris, Gr. Aphrodite, pedium, L. a foot
Range: Eastern N. America, from Nova Scotia to w. Ont., s. to AK, GA
WI Range: Statewide, but uncommon
Common associates: tamarack, tussock sedge, Ohio goldenrod
Wetland Indicator Status: FACW+
Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 10 (S&W), C = 9 (MI)