Friday, July 3, 2009

Lady's Slipper

A Northern Orchid
Driving into Cypress Lake Hiking Trails this past Monday, we spotted clumps of these beautiful native orchids growing by the roadside. A quick bound out of the car and I had some good shots.
Also called 'American Valerian' (probably due to its most common use, I'll get to that later), Lady's Slipper really does look like a dainty slipper. Well, I think it really looks like Minnie Mouse's shoe. The Latin name is Cypripedium pubescens or C. hirsutum, Cypripedium being Greek for 'Venus's slipper'. I have even seen it referred to as 'squirrel shoes'. A bit sloppy on their dainty paws I would think...
Not surprising that I would find at least one orchid on that trip up the peninsula in Bruce County even though it is late June. The Bruce Peninsula is rich in native orchids– some 44 wild species, giving the Bruce Peninsula the "distinction of having one of the greatest varieties of natural orchids in North America". WOW. The town of Tobermory hosts an Orchid Festival in the late spring every year.
Probably the best known of all the eastern North American orchids, Lady's Slipper is protected from picking or transplanting in many areas, so capture only on camera.
Here's a site that is actually cultivating Lady's Slippers and that sells the plants.

With a limited range: Nova Scotia to Ontario in Canada, Minnesota, Alabama and Nebraska in the United States (has anyone seen them in New England?) we need to be respecting their habitat: rich woods and thickets.
I found a great description in Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Enjoying Wildflowers by Donald ad Lillian Stokes. (My 1984 edition has a different cover, so hopefully the one listed on Amazon has the same information.) Does anyone have the book shown on the link? Does it have a 6 page description of Lady's Slipper?
As for uses, you can't eat the flower! And nowadays, you can't dig the roots, but I find it interesting to note that the roots of Lady's Slipper were once combined with and infusion of the bark of sassafras, along with cinnamon or lobelia and used externally as a liniment. [Native Plants by Richard Alan Miller. OAK Inc. publisher, Oregon, 1988]
Maud Grieve, in her book, A Modern Herbal says "The roots of several varieties...are employed in hysteria, being a gentle, nervous stimulant and antispasmodic, less powerful than Valerian."

And THAT is the reason the plant is sometimes referred to as 'American Valerian'.


  1. Name that herb: That looks like a Bay leaf (feuille de Laurier) to me...?

  2. NAME THAT HERB: I think the shape, stiffness and color of the leaf indicates it is a wintergreen, Gaultheria.




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