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THE SLIPPER AND ITS CHAMBER / Jack Sanders BE THEY YELLOW, pink, white, or combinations thereof, the lady's slippers are among those special wUdflowers whose locations are whispered only to trusted people. It's not just that they may be rare, but also that they look rare. Indeed, wUdflower enthusiasts are usually careful to catalogue, mentally at least, the locations of these largest of our orchids. One May, when I was looking for some yeUows and pinks to photograph, I asked a couple of knowledgeable friends who immediately remembered where they had seen yeUow lady's slippers twenty years earlier. We went to the spot in deep moist woods and, sure enough, they were still there. The pink lady's sUpper proved more elusive. The friends recalled a favorite colony from a decade or two earUer, but when we drove to the place, we found not flowers, but houses had sprung up. Several other localities were checked without success. Then another flowerwatcher told me they were blooming in a remote, hilly section of the town. We drove up and, Io and behold! several fine plants were standing, not in deep distant woods, but in a clearing four feet from the pavement of the road! Where? And such is a peculiarity of the pink lady's slipper. Asa Gray, the noted botantist, said they're found in "dry or moist woods," particularlynearevergreens .1 F. SchuylerMathews usually saw them "among withered leaves that lie under birch, beech, poplar, and maple," but admitted that "Nature is not always regular in her habits."2 W. T. Baldwin, author of a nineteenth-century book on New England orchids, reported that "the finest specimens I ever saw sprang out of cushions of crisp reindeer moss high up among the rocks of an exposed hillside, and again I have found it growing vigorously in almost open swamps, but nearly colorless from excessive moisture."3 Mr. Baldwin quotes an Adirondacks resident as saying they have a "great fondness for decaying wood, and I often see a whole row perched Uke birds along a crumbling log." Mrs. WUliam Starr Dana had seen them in little shelves on cliffs.4 "It has a roving fancy and grows up hill and down dale," said William HamUton Gibson.5 78 ยท The Missouri Review That "fancy" depends to a great extent upon the nature of the soil, which must be quite acidic and which must contain a certain type of fungus, with which the lady's sUpper species have an unusual but vital symbiotic relationship. Unlike most seeds, the minute, dust-like lady's slipper seeds contain no food to allow them to grow. However, the outside of the seed is susceptible to attack by rhizoctonia fungi, which digest the outer cells. If things balance out just right, the inner cells escape digestion and absorb some of the nutrients the fungus obtained from the soU. Not until this happens can the seed germinate and begin growing. The symbiosis with the fungus doesn't end there. In order for the baby corm (or "protocorm") to obtain minerals and other soil foods, it must use the "go-between" services of rhizoctonia or other fungi. The fungi, in turn, take from the seedling lady's slipper foods that are photosynthetically manufactured. These sensitive and complex relationships make native orchids of all kinds relatively uncommon, and make growing them from seed virtuaUy impossible outside a laboratory. What's more, it sometimes takes years for a lady's slipper to become a mature plant.6 About ten species of lady's slippers, also widely known as moccasin flowers, live in North America and some two dozen are found worldwide. They belong to the genus Cypripedium, Greek for "Venus's shoe" or sock. Christians had different heroes, and in medieval Europe, the plant was called "the Virgin's shoe" or "the shoe of Mary" (Calceolus marianus). The French still sometimes call it soulier de Notre Dame, "shoe of Our Lady." The Labellum These and other names suitably describe the main part of the flower, called the lip or labellum. This sac-like structure is designed to attract insects, particularly bees. Its roundish opening at the top is surrounded by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 78-83
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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