Uniquely identifiable characteristics
Distinguishing Feature : The equilateral triad of twisted purple tepals above a yellowish 'slipper'.
Some similarities to :
Annual Slipperwort (aka
Slipper Flower) (Calceolaria chelidonioides) which also has pale-yellow slipper-like flowers but the leaves are totally different, since it belongs to the Slipperwort Family [Calceolariaceae].
This is an exceedingly rare plant which flowers but for maybe three weeks only. So rare that there is only one plant in the North of England. It inhabits limestone areas on the north side of grassy slopes, seemingly disliking strong sunlight. Once common on limestone in northern England it is now all but extinct in the wild, but has been planted in several secret locations. It is now part of Natural Englands') 'Species Recovery Program'.
The Lady's Slipper Orchid cannot self-pollinate itself due to the large separation of the stamens with anthers and the stigma. It is pollinated (in-efficiently) by bees of just the right size, bees smaller or larger cannot or do not pollinate it. The right sized bee, usually from the species Andrena, sits on the edge of the large opening, but loses its grip and falls into the slipper, the sides of which are slippery (well, they would be, wouldn't they, its a 'slipper') smooth. The bee then finds it impossible to clamber out the way it fell in, and has to climb out from a smaller opening higher up, and in doing so, brushes against the anthers getting pollen on its back. When it next slips into a Lady's Slipper, it deposits the pollen on the stigma, hopefully pollinating it. Self pollination by the bee is also unlikely, as it would have to reverse its way out to do so. But this pollination strategy is inefficient. Luckily, Lady's Slipper also reproduces vegetatively by division of the branching rhizome and this process is thought to occur more often than pollination. It is un-known what attracts the bees to the flower in the first place.
It can take nine years before a seedling which first appears above ground flowers. This long maturation process is accompanied by a long life; they can live for upwards of 30 years, and some are known to be over 100 years old. The growth rings of one Estonian specimen were examined and it was found to be 192 years old.
Cipripedin is a quinone that is contained within the Lady's Slipper (orchid) and which can be responsible for a contact allergenic reaction in some people almost as strong as that from the (American) Poison Ivy plant, but not as severe. It is caused by cipripedin which is secreted from the trichomes on the leaves and stem of some orchids as a purplish liquid. The recent rarity of Ladys Slipper prevents mass contact, but it used to be grown commercially where handling it caused contact dermatitis.