Cypripedium Treasures

“The passions that orchids arouse are extraordinary. Not only enchantment and delight, but darker emotions: covetousness, cupidity and greed. You might say of these flowers, as was famously said of a modern British politician, that there is something of the night about them.”

This article from the U.K., A bloom back from the brink is quite a dramatic story about a journalist’s attempts to get official permission to view the last orchid of its kind in the wild, in Great Britain. Apparently the location is a closely guarded state secret, and the story of how he finally accomplished his quest is the stuff of spy novels.

For more than 70 years, the lady’s slipper orchid, Cypripedium calceolus, has been the rarest British wild flower, being reduced by collectors not merely to low numbers, but to one plant – a single plant – at a remote site, tenaciously undisclosed and resolutely guarded by those who wish to protect it.

He goes on to write,

Some moments in our lives stand out: this one did for me. You can say it was only a flower, and you can ask what all the fuss is about, but I can only say I was filled with wonder…

…It was partly the privilege of being allowed to see something that is kept so hidden and secret and guarded… partly the beauty of the orchid itself, which in the flesh, as it were, was every bit as stunning as the photographs and paintings of it I had seen.

…This orchid had suffered the fate of so many of its kind around the world. In fact, no British wild flower had ever been the subject of such unrestrained human appetite as this species …The lady’s slipper had been taken to the brink of extinction, down to a single solitary example; yet that last plant, people had saved.

The orchid in question? It is the same one I saw growing by the thousands along the roadway of the Bruce Peninsula two weeks ago. Cypripedium calceolus — the yellow lady slipper.

Remarkable. According to Bruce Peninsula natives, that’s the just the appetizer. The Showy Ladyslipper — Cypripedium reginae — is the real star of the show in that small corner of Ontario.

Sometimes you have to travel a bit to come to appreciate the treasures in our own backyard.