Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Lady's Slipper

On the shores of Malham Tarn is a Field Studies Centre which is focussed on conservation and education. Amongst other things, this involves monitoring the water quality of the tarn and keeping a careful watch on the plant, bird and animal life around the Malham Estate.

They have also grown this...

At one time, orchids were a relatively common sight, growing as wild flowers around the Northern English countryside. Then came the Victorians; great plant collectors who virtually wiped out the native wild population of some orchids, including this one - The Lady's Slipper orchid.

As you can see, this specimen is being nurtured within a cage to protect it from predators - animal and human but, the long term aim is to re-establish a truly wild population.

Apparently, the last original native specimen of this orchid is on private land in a secret location somewhere else in the Yorkshire Dales (they do like the limestone soil), but in 1983, the Sainsbury Orchid Project was set up in Kew Botanical Gardens and this eventually led to the Kew scientists being able to grow the orchid from seed.

Since that time, small populations have been introduced to sites across Northern England; a joint venture between Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Maybe, one day, these pretty little flowers will once again be common across the northern limestone counties.

A few interesting facts about the name:

It was named by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778); a famous Swedish scientist who developed the Linnaean Taxonomy - the system of scientific classification now routinely used in biology.

Its Latin name is Cypripedium calceolus. 

Translated literally, Cypripedium means 'Venus's feet' and calceolus means 'little shoe'. As a result, some people still refer to the plant as 'The Little Shoe of Venus'.

In the USA, the plant is apparently known as the Moccasin flower


  1. I think there are one or two locations quite near to us where the lady's slipper is being nurtured. We do have the common purple spotted here - hundreds of them - and that is better than nothing. But this one is really in a class of its own isn't it?

  2. Love this history about the flower. It does look a little "out of this world"

  3. We have the same problem protecting wild orchids. People are told to leave them where they are but some just refuse to listen.