Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plant of the Week: Large Yellow Ladyslipper Orchids (Cyprepedium parviflorum var. pubescens)

This is the center showpiece of any woodland wildflower garden.  While not the largest of Kentucky's native slipper orchids, it is probably the easiest to grow in the garden, and undoubtedly the most common species available in the nursery trade.  One of the key things to remember when purchasing these orchids is where the stock came from.  Do not purchase nursery grown or wild dug plants, rather purchase nursery propagated plants.  If you find mature plants for less than $25 - 30, it undoubtedly means these were most likely wild dug because it takes them 5 to 7 years from seed or tissue culture to produce their first blooms.  Hence, if they are nursery propagated, they have been in the nursery a good long time and many resources have been used to keep them growing until they are saleable size.  Once they do flower, they can bloom for 40 or more years and if they like the growing conditions and habitat in the garden, they can expand into rather large clumps where you might get 25 - 40 plants in a small area, and that looks outstanding!  While rather easy to grow in the garden, this species does not like acidic soils, rather more to the basic side (pH of 6.0 to 7.0) and if your soils are acidic you should buffer them by adding some wood ash and lime or sulfur.  Furthermore, clay soils are a sure way to kill these expensive plants, and rather quickly because the roots will rot by the end of the first growing season.  So, the essential soil should be close to neutral, well-drained (a good combination of sand and organic compost like composted trees), organic rich (mulch every single year) is the optimum.  If you do not have these conditions, you can make them but just ensure that the planting holes are at least 3 to 4 times the size of the bare root plants (fall is the best time to plant but you can also plant bare root in the spring).  To keep the maximum amount of flowering possible, every spring when the plants come up you can add a bit of granulated fertilizer (6-4-5 or something close) although generally adding a good heavy dose of organic leaf mulch will do the same thing.  When planting, pay close attention to the buds so that they are just at the soil surface and will be covered with 2" compost over winter.  Also make sure the lateral roots are spread out evenly in all directions.  If your plants are not doing well by the third or fourth year, they should be moved to a different location.  Light conditions are such that they should spend most of the day in dappled shade but will flower better if they get about 2 hours of direct sunlight daily.  I love everything about this plant including the soft, downy or pubescent leaves, the flower or course, and even the unique seed pod which contains thousands of tiny, dust like seeds.  One fascinating thing about the lady-slippers is that the seeds do not have an endosperm (nutrients supplied to baby plants), seed coat (for protection), or differentiated embryo.  So the strategy is to allow the seeds to take to the wind or water and hopefully fall where the tiny seedlings can find the appropriate soil fungi that aid the developing embryo by providing nutrients necessary for development and begin growing.  The orchid family is the most advanced plant family and they have a fascinating life history strategy.  The flowers are pollinated by males of small carpenter bees (Ceratina calcarata)  in this species.  So what attracts the bees to the flowers since they do not produce nectar?  It is either fragrance or color or a combination and the odor may be a mixture of various chemicals and pheromones.  Lady slipper orchids have mechanisms to prevent self-pollination and insects are required to transfer the pollen.  In order for the plants to be pollinated, only insects of a certain size may enter the pouch and escape and in order to escape they must be the correct size and they collect a touch of pollen from the anther as they climb out near the rear of the flower.  These sensational flowers are in bloom right now and will stay that way for a few weeks, so if you don't have any in the garden, take a walk and discover them in the wild because they are definitely worth seeing.

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