Lady’s Slipper Orchid – Cypripedium spp

Overall At-Risk Score: 66

Latin Name:

Cypripedium spp.; a genus of about 58 species

Common Name:

Lady’s Slipper; Nerve root, Moccasin Flower, American Valerian


Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Geographic Region:

Found in all lower 48 states, except for Nevada and Florida, this genus is a diverse and widespread group of plants in North America. There are also a few species found in China and Korea


Found most often living among conifer trees, these plants require acidic soil that is rich in fungal activity, moss, and decomposing plant matter.


Perennial; most species have short growing seasons before dying back


As with most orchids, Cypripedium produces thousands of dust-like seeds in it’s seed pod, and scatters them to the wind. The seeds lack an endosperm, the nutrient source most seeds have to aid in germination, so it requires specific types of fungus present in the soil to use as food. Seeds can lay dormant for many years before germinating.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

The difficult reproduction and particular site requirements of these plants makes over harvest and disturbance a major threat to wild populations and their sustainability.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Many of the species under Cypripedium are endangered, threatened, or declining in most of their native ranges.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

Root extract, through tea or tincture.
Vulnerability of habitat/changes of habitat quality and availability:
Being a woodland species, that often takes decades to establish a population, urban sprawl and deforestation are a major threat to these plants.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Though difficult to produce on a large scale in a wild setting, many growers have had luck cultivating Cypripedium species and hybrids in sterile mediums, like agar gel. Cultivated varieties are a viable option to prevent harvest of wild populations, however, the sought-after sedative effects of Cypripedium root extract can be substituted with more common herbs; like Valerian (Valeriana officinalis).

  1. USDA C. candidum
  2. USDA C. kentuckiense
  3. USDA C. parviflorum
  4. USDA C. reginea
  5. USDA C. acaule
  6. USDA C. arietinum

Historical Background

In 1856 Thoreau wrote, “Everywhere now in dry pitch pine woods stands the red lady’s slipper over the red pine leaves on the forest floor, rejoicing in June. Behold their rich striped red, their drooping sack.” This is a plant that elicits poetry and stories from all who have good fortune to come across it. Even modern technical descriptions of lady’s slipper to be common, but all should respect the corners of the castle where it lives.

A single lady’s slipper seedpod will contain between ten and twenty thousand minute seeds that have been likened to a “mote of dust on the wind.” Adapted for wind dispersal, they are remarkably light, and unlike most other seeds, they do not contain their own endosperm or food reserve. Thus, in order to survive, the seedling must find a dependable source of nourishment during this fragile stage of development. This is where magic and science merge. An odd symbiotic relationship between the lady’s slipper and potentially lethal (to plants, anyway) pathogenic fungi has developed over eons of time In order for the seed to survive, it forms a small corm that waits in dormancy until “invaded” by certain symbiotic soil fungi. The lady’s slipper seed may lie in waiting for several years before the right mycorrhiza comes along. Once penetrated the seedlings feed on this soil fungus called orchid mycorrbizae (myco means “fungus” and rhiza, “root”), digesting it to obtain the nourishment needed for growth. More than six species of Rhizoctonia, or soil fungus, necessary to the growth of lady’s slippers have been identified thus far.

Beauty is no “its own excuse for being,” nor was fragrance ever “wasted on the desert air”. The seer at last hear and interpreted the voice in the wilderness. The flower is no longer a simple passive victim in the busy bee’s sweet pillage, but rather a conscious being, with hopes, aspirations, and companionships. The insect is its counter part. Its fragrance is but perfumed whisper of welcome, its color is as the wooing blush and rosy lip, its portals are decked for his coming, and its sweet hospitalities humored to his tarrying; and it speeds its parting affinity, rests content that its life consummation has been fulfilled.

UpS Recommendations

No wild harvest is permissible. Use only cultivated resources. Cultivated valerian, cultivated California poppy, and cultivated passion flower are good substitutes. Another alternative is lemon balm for its antispasmodic and nervine properties, as well as skullcap, which has antispasmodic, nervine, sedative, and anodyne actions.

This plant sponsored by Sage Mountain

Lady Slipper Podcast 1 – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre
Lady Slipper Podcast 2 – The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre