At this time of year cypripedium orchids grow thick along the sides of the road on the Bruce Peninsula and in other parts of North America. Up on the Bruce, passersby speeding along the highway usually assume the flashes of yellow are dandelions, not beautiful ladyslippers, unless they’re in the know. The usual reaction, when people find out, is “I’d like to stop and take some for my garden!!”. I’ve heard it from the lips of my own family and friends, so it’s kind of hard to label all of them as evil orchid-poaching environmental despoilers. It’s an innocent response from people who don’t stop to think that the one little thing we do, which as an isolated event is relatively harmless, is repeated by thousands of others. We all belong to that club, in some fashion.
Without sounding like a nature-bunny nag hag, I try to explain why taking orchids from the wild is a bad idea. The usual mantra of, “if you take one, and everyone else takes one, there won’t be any left” usually doesn’t make much of a dent. Human beings have trouble with the big picture. I have hit on the perfect rational, and one that’s quite true: It’s a waste of time and energy. The odds that a wild-collected terrestrial orchids will survive in your garden are about the same as winning a lottery.
Here’s why. Orchids have a symbiotic relationship with a mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Though each orchid seed pod contains millions of seeds, the seeds must land in some soil containing this fungi if it’s to germinate, and grow. The odds that you’ll have or find that particular fungi in your backyard are pretty slim.
No problem, you say!! I’ll just add some of this mycorrhizal fungi to the soil! Well, for those ambitious enough to try, here are the laboratory instructions. Just remember to buy your cypripediums seeds or plants from an ethical grower.