Back in 1997 a friend told me about some pink wildflowers she saw growing in a wooded area
near her home. From her description I was quite intrigued. Considering the time of year, the
habitat, and the fact she described them something like a "orchid", I figured the only want to
find out for sure was to go see for myself.
One Friday afternoon in mid-April of 2005 I traveled to Johnston County, NC and upon entering
the subdivision where my friend lived, I noticed this was not the typical housing development.
Yes, there were houses and nice green lawns, but most of the area was still forested and not
clear-cut of all trees, which is sadly more common in developments these days. After arriving
at her house we hiked a short distance up a paved road to a faint path leading into a thin pine
forest surrounded on two sides by houses and on another by the road. Less than 30 ft inside
the woods I spotted the first pink flowers of Cypripedium acaule. My friend commented that
there were dozens more in bloom deeper into the woods. We didn't have to walk but a few
more yards when the magic of spring came into light. Dozens of beautiful C. acaule were in
perfect flower including one and only one albino. The flower stems were quite tall and the
flowers had large labellums. Most individual plants were growing scattered throughout the forest
floor, while others were in tight clumps of three to six plants.
Pink Lady's Slipper
|Cypripedium acaule 'albino'
White form of Pink Lady's Slipper
Pink Lady's Slippers
The plants were growing so thick in this one section of the woods it was difficult to walk without
fear of stepping on a plant! A quick count tallied 82 plants in flower and approximately 12 more in
the leaf stage. After taking some photos I took time to observe the habitat. At first appearance it
looks too shaded for any angiosperm to get enough light to bloom, yet the orchids found it just
perfect under the dark canopy of the pines. A few oaks were scattered throughout and by the size
of the trees here I would guess the age of the forest to be about 20 to 25 years old.
Pink Lady's Slippers covering the forest floor
Our next stop was another wooded lot nearby where the C. acuales were growing much shorter in
height, but in similar numbers. These plants were growing in a younger pine forest under a more
open canopy. I noticed the soil profile was distinctly different too. Underneath the thin layer of pine
needles was hard clay. It was very dry to the touch yet it contained enough moisture for the plants
to thrive. Other than a few lichens very little vegetation was growing in this section of the woods.
From this observation I concluded the soil was quite poor in nutrients. However, for the orchids it
was an ideal habitat.
Our final stop was at my friend's woodland natural area in her front yard. Here the habitat was very
different. Under the dense canopy of some tall oaks Liparis lilliifolia or Lily-leaf Twayblade. A whole
colony of more than a dozen plants were putting on a show. This species prefers moist, rich soil as
oppose to the drier conditions for C. acaule. Next to the colony of Liparis were a couple of rosettes
of Goodyear pubescens. Still a few weeks from blooming the white veins in the dark green leaves
of this distinct orchid species make it easy to spot.
I was very excited about seeing so many wild orchids in bloom. This was not a location that I
would have expected to see such a high density of plants. For now they are protected in a green
zone right in the middle of an expanding development. Hopefully the residents will take notice of
their botanical treasures and protect these special areas.
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