FlowersFragrant, solitary, large, showy, drooping from end of scape, 6 to 12 in. high. Sepals lance-shaped, spreading, greenish purple, 2 in. long or less; petals narrower and Ionger than sepals. Lip an inflated sac, often over 2 in. Iong, slit down the middle, and folded inwardly above, pale magenta, veined with darker pink ; upper part of interior crested with long white hairs. Stamens united with style into unsymmetrical declined column, bearing an anther on either side, and a dilated triangular petal-like sterile stamen above, arching over the broad concave stigma. Leaves : 2, from the base ; elliptic, thick, 6 to 8 in. long.
Preferred HabitatDeep, rocky, or sandy woods.
DistributionCanada southward to North Carolina, westward to Minnesota and Kentucky.
Because most people cannot forbear picking this exquisite flower that seems too beautiful to be found outside a millionaire’s hothouse, it is becoming rarer every year, until the finding of one in the deep forest, where it must now hide, has become the event of a day’s walk. Once it was the commonest of the orchids.
“Cross-fertilization,” says Darwin, “results in offspring which vanquish the offspring of self-fertilization in the struggle for existence.” This has been the motto of the orchid family for ages. No group of plants has taken more elaborate precautions against self-pollination or developed more elaborate and ingenious mechanism to compel insects to transfer their pollen than this.
The fissure down the front of the pink lady’s slipper is not so wide but that a bee must use some force to push against its elastic sloping sides and enter the large banquet chamber where he finds generous entertainment secreted among the fine white hairs in the upper part. Presently he has feasted enough. Now one can hear him buzzing about inside, trying to find a way out of the trap. Toward the two little gleams of light through apertures at the end of a passage beyond the nectary hairs, he at length finds his way. Narrower and narrower grows the passage until it would seem as if he could never struggle through ; nor can he until his back has rubbed along the sticky, overhanging stigma, which is furnished with minute, rigid, sharply pointed papillae, all directed forward, and placed there for the express purpose of combing out the pollen he has brought from another flower on his back or head. The imported pollen having been safely removed, he still has to struggle on toward freedom through one of the narrow openings, where an anther almost blocks his way.
As he works outward, this anther, drawn downward on its hinge, plasters his back with yellow granular pollen as a parting gift, and away he flies to another lady’s slipper to have it combed out by the sticky stigma as described above. The smallest bees can squeeze through the passage without paying toll. To those of the Andrena and Halictus tribe the flower is evidently best adapted. Sometimes the largest bumblebees, either unable or unwilling to get out by the legitimate route, bite their way to liberty. Mutilated sacs are not uncommon. But when unable to get out by fair means, and too bewildered to escape by foul, the large bee must sometimes perish miserably in his gorgeous prison.