Originally posted in May 2014:
Usually, sometime around Mother’s Day, you can expect to find Yellow Ladies Slipper Orchids growing in open woods and along streams in Southwest Virginia. Growing up to 2½’ tall, this native orchid is large, conspicuous, but relatively uncommon. I went in search of it today, hoping for a find. I returned to a spot at Falls Ridge where I had seen one before, and it was there again, growing along the bank of the stream, in bloom on May 14th. At higher elevations they will be in bloom a little later this month (e.g. Mountain Lake, 4,000 ft.).
The foliage of yellow ladies slippers, or mocassin flower, is quite distinctive. An erect, hairy stem holds three or more large, alternating leaves. The oval, slightly hairy leaves can grow up to 6″ long each. Strong parallel veins run across the surface of each yellowish-green leaf, giving it a ribbed look, and it is mainly this characteristic that I look for as I am scanning the forest floor for this orchid.
The flower is composed of three petals and three sepals. The two lateral petals are long, thin, and twisted into spirals (these are the “laces” of the slipper). The third, bright yellow petal takes the shape of a slipper, with an opening at the top. The color and size of all the flower parts can be quite variable.
The flowers in the gallery below were found growing together and they were much smaller than any I’ve seen before. I wonder if these might be young versions of greater yellow ladies slippers, or perhaps lesser yellow ladies slippers (a different species)? I’ll leave that distinction to the experts!