Cultivating Paphiopedilum armeniacum, the cold hardy Chinese yellow slipper orchid

In the summer of 2013 I bought a nice flowering division of the cold hardy Chinese slipper orchid, Paphiopedilum armeniacum. I’d tried this species before, but always started with a rather weak plant, and looking back, they probably were all wild collected. The new plant was healthy, with very strong roots and a flower that lasted a long time – a good sign a plant is happy.

This species is known for growing long stolons between growths, unlike most other Paphiopedilums, making it difficult to keep in a traditional pot for very long. I’d seen masterfully grown plants in big flat trays and hanging baskets, and instantly wanted to try my hand at growing this species that way too. Check out this link to see the grower that inspired me to try this method: Paphiopedilum armeniacum basket culture success story.

The first season I let the plant grow in the small pot it came in, but in March of 2014, I planted it into a standard hanging basket with a coconut fiber shell (figure 1). I punctured the dense fibers of the coconut liner to allow water and the stolons of the plant to easy pass through. The growing mix was pretty standard for this species, a mix of large diameter perlite and pumice gravel, fine bark and chunks of charcoal. The plant was kept in a semi-shaded area hanging from a sasanqua bush, Camellia sasanqua, where it received plenty of summer rain and was fertilized regularly.

Paphiopedilum armeniacum 2014
Figure 1: Paphiopedilum armeniacum in March 2014.

The plant was taken in during the worst winter weather even though this species is known for enduring repeated frost. In winter watering was held to a bare minimum, but humidity levels were maintained over 50%. By the spring of 2016 the plant had grown steadily, increasing from one main growth and three smaller ones, to three adult growths and two slightly smaller ones (figure 2). Though I was encouraged that it grew fairly well, something seemed not quite right, so I decided to replant it into fresh medium.

Paphiopedilum armeniacum summer 2016
Figure 2: The same plant two years later. It looks good, but not quite thriving.

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Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology’s nursery in Huanglong, a lady slipper orchid bonanza

Hengduan Mountains Biotechnology operates two nurseries in China, one in the high mountains of northern Sichuan, and the other on the hot Sichuan Plain on the outskirts of Chengdu city. The high mountain nursery is located nearly within the boundaries of Huanglong National Park in a deep valley at around 3000 meters elevation. Here the winters are cold, long, and dry, extending from November through March uninterrupted. Summers are cool and wet with most days overcast and temperatures rarely, if ever, above 25 C.

In this climate Holger and Wenqing Perner have their temperate ladyslipper orchid nursery. Several long shadehouses containing thousands of Cypripedium seedlings as well as adult stud plants make up the bulk of the nursery. Native Chinese Cypripediums flourish in these conditions. In late June 2013 I visited the nursery on one of Wenqing and Holger’s botanical tours of the region. What follows is a pictoral essay showing what was in bloom at the time of our visit.

Just couple kilometers up the highway from the nursery is Huanglong Valley, home to literally thousands of Cypripediums, especially C. tibeticum, C. flavum, and C. bardolphianum. For this reason it isn’t surprising the local climate is perfect for growing Cyps. The plants are grown in a mix of four to five parts perlite to one part sedge peat taken from the alpine grasslands of the region. In this mix the plants flourish in beds overlain with conifer needles. Lets take a look at some of the plants we saw at the nursery the day we visited.

Cypripedium tibeticum
Cypripedium tibeticum

This lovely white based colored C. tibeticum is one of their stud plants at the nursery. As you can see, this form lacks the white rim around the lip orifice. Flowers of this type are the largest of the this variable species. If you buy plants from them, then expect flowers similar to this one.

Cypripedium flavum red spots
Cypripedium flavum with red spots

C. flavum is a common, yet endemic orchid of western China, found only the cool wet conditions these high mountains can provide. Flower color is highly variable form pure yellows, to near white flowered ones, as well as spotted flowers such as this lovely plant at the Huanglong nursery.

A challenging group of Cypripediums to grow are the spotted leaf types (Sections Trigonipedia and Sinopedilum). Here are clumps of C. sichuanense (left) and C. bardolphium (right, out of flower) growing with abandon. These plants cannot withstand wet conditions in winter and so must be protected from winter rain and snow.

Spotted leaf Cypripediums
Cypripedium sichuanense and Cypripedium bardolphianum

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Cypripedium bardolphianum, a dwarf lady slipper flower of western China

China’s Hengduan Mountains are home to a host of endemic lady slipper orchids with Cypripedium bardolphianum being among one of the oddest. This dwarf plant stands at most hand high, and while its flowers are hard to describe as showy, the plant has appeal in many respects nonetheless. Certainly it is more attractive than its moniker would suggest, being named after a warty nosed Shakespearean character. It is one of three species in Section Sinopedilum, all being confined to the mountains of western China.

Cypripedium bardolphianum plant
Cypripedium bardolphianum is a dwarf slipper orchid confined to the Hengduan Mountains of western China.

Cypripedium bardolphianum is a dwarf herbaceous terrestrial orchid of mossy, thin woodlands in high mountain valleys. The plant appears to have an even pair of broad leaves borne opposite to each other, but in fact only one is a true leaf while the other is a oversized floral bract. They are nearly hairless, usually are no more than 5-6 centimeters long each and half again as wide, and grow at ground level. They can be pure green, lightly spotted with purple-black, or flushed with purple (usually near the leaf margins). Growths are produced along a branched, creeping rhizome with new buds initiated several centimeters apart. For this reason they form extensive, loose colonies.

The single flower sits at the end of a short stalk, just a bit taller than the leaves which tend to stand upright during flowering, with the whole plant typically not being much more than 10 centimeters high in total. Since the second “leaf” is in fact the floral bract, the flower is presented unaccompanied at the end of the stalk. The flower is small, around 2 centimeters across, and has a strong, astringent smell. The lip is cup-shaped with the outermost end pointing nearly directly upwards. The lip orifice is depressed giving the flower a bowl-like shape, uncharacteristic for a Cypripedium. The staminode is large and broad. The sepals and petals are quite stout and broad, and all cup around the lip, as though protecting it. The ovary is often adorned with purple hairs along its ridges, especially in dark colored flowers.

Cypripedium bardolphiaum leaves
The leaves of Cypripedium bardolphiaum can be totally green, flushed with purple, or lightly spotting like this plant.

Check out this video of Cyps in the wilds of northern Sichuan, China. Plants featured include C. bardolphianum, C. calcicola, C. fargesii, and C. sichuanense… to mention a few.

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Cypripedium tibeticum v. amesianum, a mysterious self pollinating slipper orchid

In the mountains of western Sichuan, China there exists a curious dwarf form of Cypripedium tibeticum with self pollinating flowers. For years this plant has been shrouded in mystery, initially being given the name C. amesianum, and more recently has been assigned to at least two different accepted species, C. yunnanense and C. ludlowii, by two different authors. Hopefully, I can shed light on this diminutive little plant – what makes it distinct and perhaps even delineating its logical position within the known species of the region. It should be noted that there is no clear name for this plant at the moment, nevertheless I will refer to it as C. tibeticum v. amesianum.

Cypripedium tibeticum amesianum plant
Cypripedium tibeticum v. amesianum is a dwarf, self pollinating slipper orchid found mostly in western Sichuan, China.

This plant is an herbaceous terrestrial deciduous orchid of sparse woodlands and shrub thickets in high mountains. The plant’s habit is very similar to the more typical forms of C. tibeticum except in stature – often standing no more than 20 cm tall. Beyond that, its most salient feature are the flowers, which are borne one to a stem, and rarely exceed 4-5 cm in natural spread. Their color is fairly normal for a yellow based flower of C. tibeticum, with the lip evenly suffused with a wine red color and striated sepals and petals with a similar hue. The lip tends to be a bit more round than most C. tibeticum, rather than laterally compressed. The lip orifice is lightly toothed as well.

Other than size their most distinctive feature is that the flowers are obligate self pollinators. The reason is easily seen when looking at the pollinia which grow directly onto the stigmatic surface of the column. The result is 100% of the flowers forming pods, though of course not all necessarily come to full term.

It appears that this odd little plant is confined to the Hengduan Mountains of western Sichuan Province, and adjacent areas of extreme northeastern Yunnan at elevations between 3000-3500 meters. Here it is found growing in open woodlands, shrub thickets, scree slopes, and travertine formations throughout the region often alongside other Cyps including C. bardolphianum, C. calcicola, C. farreri, C. flavum, C. guttatum, C. shanxiense, and C. tibeticum v. tibeticum. When vigorous it can form large clumps, but also grows singly.

The existence of v. amesianum has been known for nearly a 100 years. It was first described as Cypripedium amesianum by Rudolf Schlechter in 1919 based on material from two collections made by another famous plant collector of the time, Ernest Henry Wilson, in the vicinity of Wenchuan in Sichuan. Since then plants fitting this type have been found throughout the high mountain valleys of western Sichuan and just over the border in neighboring Yunnan.

Cypripedium tibeticum amesianum flower
The flower of Cypripedium tibeticum v. amesianum looks like a miniature form of the larger, more common forms. The flower can also be easily confused with C. calcicola, however that species’ flower never is self pollinating.

Unfortunately, the confusion surrounding its taxonomic status has had a more sorted history. After looking at the AMES herbarium specimen, Phillip Cribb (1998) considered it conspecific with C. yunnanense, another diminutive species with C. tibeticum like flowers from the same general region. Then in 2009 Wolfgang Eccarius published it under the name C. tibeticum ssp. ludlowii, thus reassigning the accepted species C. ludlowii, to this varietal status.
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Videos about slipper orchids

Slipper orchids are primitive orchids which all share one obvious feature – the lip, or labellum, is pouch shaped. They range across the world, from temperate to tropical regions of every continent except Africa and Australia. What follows is a list of videos I’ve produced about them, focusing at this point on the genus Cypripedium. Enjoy and share them!

Lady slipper orchids: what to look for when buying them – in this video you see the difference between healthy and unhealthy Cypripedium stock. With an already difficult group of plants to cultivate, there’s no point in buying plants that are likely to fail regardless of your attention.

Cyp. farreri – See this rare endemic slipper orchid of the Hengduan Mountains in western China, known from only 4 locales. I am one of the very few people to have witnessed it in flower in the wild and now you can see them basically as I did.

Cyp. tibeticum – In this video you get to see this highly variable Cypripedium common to western China’s high mountain valleys. It also is one of the most beautiful of the entire genus in my opinion. Here we get to see many different forms of this lovely plant.

Cyp. flavum – This rare yellow flowered endemic Cypripedium of the Hengduan Mountains is featured in its native habitat. This plant is similar looking to its North American cousin, C. reginae, but as you’ll see it is quite a different plant.

Cypripedium photo blitz! – In this gallery of 69 photos you’ll see the best of my shots of these wonderful plants in the wild. All were taken on a trip to Sichuan, China in June 2013. There is no sound track, just the photos and an index at the end describing each photo and where it was taken.

Assorted Cyps from Sichuan – in this video I show a variety of Cyps seen in the wilds of northern Sichuan, China in June 2013. Plants featured include C. bardolphianum, C. calcicola, C. fargesii, and C. sichuanense… to mention a few.


Cypripedium flavum, the yellow Cypripedium of western China

In his book Native Orchids of North America, Donovan Correll wrote of an extremely disjunct population of the showy lady slipper (Cypripedium reginae) said to be found in the mountains of western China. That was an eyeful for me at the time (I was 16) – how could that be? China was literally on the other side of the world! Surely, some strange force was at work here. Years later I learned of the yellow counterpart to C. reginae growing in western China’s fabled mountains, the now well known Cypripedium flavum.

These two species are at once highly reminiscent of each other, and yet obviously different, something Correll didn’t notice in the dried herbarium specimens he had examined. Indeed for many years, with the “Bamboo Curtain” fully drawn, many Chinese orchids fell into near mythical status – unknown except by the handful of botanists who roamed those far regions a hundred or more years ago. This is the story of this lovely slipper orchid today.

Cypripedium flavum clump
Cypripedium flavum often forms large clumps in nature.

Cypripedium flavum is a deciduous, herbaceous, perennial, terrestrial orchid found in thin woods of high mountain valleys. It’s fleshy, densely pubescent stem can grow nearly as high as C. reginae, up to 60 cm tall in large specimens, but is usually two thirds that height. Also, like C. reginae, it bears many pubescent, elliptic leaves, as many as 10 in number, in a alternating pattern up the stem. The rhizome is stout, bearing many thick, light brown roots. Plants tend to clump, with 15 or more stems each, but can occur singly.

The flower again is much like in C. reginae, but smaller, having a natural spread of 4-6 cm on average (or as Dr. Phillip Cribb says, “flowers the size of ping-pong balls”). The dorsal sepal and synsepal are very broad to the point of being nearly ovate, the former hanging in a horizontal position like a hood over the lip, the latter, cradling the bottom of it. The petals are more elongate and in most plants tend to recurve backwards. The lip is rather round to somewhat elongate, sometimes having a slight cleft “chin” appearance, and often is laterally compressed.

Flower color is variable, usually being a yellow to cream base throughout. The petals and sepals can be flushed, spotted, and striated with varying amounts of purple-maroon color, or can be completely unmarked. The same goes with the lip – it can be highly spotted, lightly so, or not at all. The staminode tends to be deep maroon, but Cribb cites specimens with “butter-yellow staminodes” from northern Sichuan. Alba-like forms have been found as well in northern Yunnan with nearly pure white flowers – except the staminode which retains some purple pigment. Flowers are borne singly, or very rarely in a pair.

Cypripedium flavum is a plant of high mountain valleys, found only in western China from northern Yunnan, a tiny part of eastern Xizang (Tibet), throughout western Sichuan, southern Gansu, and western Hubei. It probably also occurs in parts of southern Shaanxi, but is not reported from there.

This rare yellow slipper orchid is an endemic species confined to alpine valleys from ~2,300-3,700 meters elevation in the Hengduan Mountains of western China. It seems most at home in areas where limestone is near the surface, sometimes numbering in the thousands of plants, such as northern Sichuan’s Huanglong Valley with its famous travertine limestone formations. It can also be seen on limestone scree slopes, in thin coniferous forests or forest margins, in deciduous woods, and in thickets and scrub. It is often accompanied by other Cypripediums in the wild – typically C. calcicola, C. tibeticum, and C. bardolphianum, and occasionally C. farreri, C. franchetii, C. margaritaceum, C. guttatum, and C. plechtrochilum.

Cypripedium flavum typical
“Flavum” means yellow, yet Cypripedium flavum’s flower is typically more cream colored or light yellow.

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Cypripedium tibeticum, a highly variable Chinese lady slipper orchid

One of the most startling of the Chinese lady slipper orchids is the highly variable Cypripedium tibeticum. Superficially it is similar to the more widespread C. macranthos, and indeed some forms of that species, especially those known as hoteiatsumorisou in Japan, are near dead ringers for the more spectacular large flowered forms of C. tibeticum from Sichuan, China.

In a similar way C. tibeticum is as variable as the North American C. parviflorum, making its taxonomy problematic. As a result it has been given any number of names – the bulk of those considered invalid by most authorities. Hopefully in this article I will at least help clarify what plants have been found in nature.

Cypripedium tibeticum is a herbaceous, perennial, terrestrial orchid of high mountain meadows, scrub forests, and forest margins. Its thick, glabrous stem can reach a height of 35 cm, but it is not uncommon to find flowering stems half that high, especially in exposed habitats. Each bears up to four pubescent elliptic to nearly ovate leaves, but more commonly just three are present. While single stemmed plants are frequent, in more favorable environments they can form large clumps with 10 or more growing points.

Cypripedium tibeticum plant
Cypripedium tibeticum is often rather short in stature, but as you can see their flowers can be large and showy.

Generalizing about the flower is quite a bit more tricky since variation in form and color is extreme. The flower’s natural spread can range from a mere 3 cm to as much as 12 cm depending on the form. More consistent features include a highly corrugated lip surface that is richly flushed with maroon brown to purple pigment, boldly striated sepals and petals, conspicuous hairs on the petals towards their point of attachment, and a mostly glabrous ovary. Flowers are typically born one per stem, however rarely they can be double flowered. Beyond that, it is difficult to talk about similar floral characteristics. Even the often mentioned white ring around the lip orifice is hardly a consistent trait. The various forms I’ve seen or heard about and their characteristics are detailed below.

This is one of the more widespread and common Cypripedium species in western China, indeed extending beyond that country’s borders into adjacent areas of northern India (Sikkim) and Bhutan. Within China it has been found from southwestern Xizang (Tibet), northern Yunnan, much of northern and western Sichuan, southern Gansu, and perhaps even parts of Guizhou (according to Considering its native range is in such close proximity to Arunachal Pradesh (India) and extreme northern Myanmar, there is likely habitat in those areas as well. It is with satisfaction that I can say this species is not in immediate danger in its native range, despite being continuously subjected to collecting pressure from plant diggers.

This is a plant of high mountains, having been reported from 2,300-4,200 meters elevation. It can be found on grassy to scrubby slopes and meadows (often occupied by yaks), rocky thin woods, forest margins, on travertine formations, perched on scree slopes, and growing out of cliff faces. It is not found in dense woodlands, but rather is a denizen of open environments. In northern Sichuan I have had the great fortune of seeing it growing in all the above situations from ~3,000-3,500 meters elevation, often accompanied by C. flavum, C. calcicola, and C. bardolphianum, and more rarely C. guttatum, C. shanxiense, and C. farreri. It can form sizable colonies, with many dozens of flowering plants in view, or simply grow here and there in small groups.

Cypripedium tibeticum seed pod
The seed pod of Cypripedium tibeticum is essentially glabrous and often suffused with purple color. I am happy to report such pods were commonly seen in the wild.

As a side note, all of Sichuan’s Cypripediums favor travertine limestone areas. Travertine is limestone produced by the precipitation of carbonate minerals out of mineral springs, in particular hot springs. Western China is a seismically active region overlaid in many places with limestone rock. Where fissures carrying geothermally heated water to the surface come in contact with limestone, travertine formations can form around flowing hot spring areas.
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Cypripedium farreri, a rare yellow slipper orchid of southwestern China

In the high mountains of southwestern China, if you are either very lucky or well informed, or both, you may come across one of the rarest yellow slipper orchids in the world, Cypripedium farreri. As fate would have it I was indeed lucky enough to see this plant in full flower in its native land on a botanical tour lead by Dr. Holger Perner and his wife Wenqing in June 2013. I now am one of the few people who have laid eyes on this rarity in full flower in the wild – to say the least it was an experience of a lifetime!

Cypripedium farreri is a deciduous terrestrial orchid of open, rocky, grassy slopes of high mountains. It’s overall appearance is much like other members of section Cypripedium, though smaller, and with fewer leaves. The plant’s stature is quite small, with average plants standing no more than 20 cm tall, and large plants only attaining 30 cm in total height. Each pubescent stem carries no more than three (more commonly two) broad elongate to ovate, pleated leaves, borne alternately. In nature plants tend to be single stemmed, but occasionally can boast two growths.

Cypripedium farreri plant
Cypripedium farreri in habitat in northern Sichuan, China. Few have had the pleasure to see this rarity in flower in the wild.

The flowers are typically produced singly, but on occasion plants are double flowered and have a natural spread of 7-9 cm each. The flower’s shape is much like other Cypripediums, especially it’s near cousin C. fasciolatum with one caveat, the pouch is “pulled up” around the lip orifice in such a way as to produce a fluted, vase-like shape. The lip also tends to be rather bulbous at its base and its orifice is narrow and deeply toothed – a characteristic seen also in C. fasciolatum, but much less extreme. The sepals and petals are more or less held flat, with some mild twisting, and are quite broad. The lip’s color is pale cream to a dull yellow and notably lined with vertical maroon bars – another signature trait of this plant. The base color of the sepals and petals is bright green-yellow and all are marked with brick red striping. The staminode is yellow and heavily suffused with dark red as is the interior lip orifice and adjacent areas of its inner lining. The flower’s fragrance is much like lily of the valley.

This is one of the rarest of all lady slipper orchids in the world, with only four known localities, all in the Hengduan Mountains of southwestern China, ranging from northern Yunnan in the south, to northwestern Sichuan, and up to southern Gansu (the type locality) in the north. Its habitat is on rocky scree slopes, often near cliffs, in limestone gorges. In the location I visited in Sichuan it grew away from tree cover even in the flatter reaches of the valley, favoring open areas with a little companion herbage other than short grasses and small shrubby herbs. To my knowledge, this is typical habitat for the species, though some sources say it can be found in open woodlands as well. It can be found at 2600-2800 meters elevation in southern Gansu, and up to 3400 meters in Sichuan and Yunnan.

Cypripedium farreri pair
A pair of plants growing on a patch of turf amidst a limestone scree slope, ~3300 meters elevation.

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Cypripedium parviflorum v. parviflorum, the small yellow lady slipper

There exists a small flowered form of yellow lady slipper orchid occurring over much of the northern US, across southern and central Canada, as far south as the northern Rocky Mountains, and northward to the Yukon and northern Alaska. It is the well known, but not often encountered, Cypripedium parviflorum v. parviflorum. In appearance it looks very close to the European species, C. calceolus, and in fact until fairly recently was considered a variety of that species.

Without a doubt, C. parviflorum is the most variable Cypripedium species both in terms of morphology and habitat preference in North America. In all not less than two dozen names have been given to this species at the level of specific or varietal rank – a tribute to the variation within plants seen in the field. This has lead some authors to consider C. parviflorum to be either a very diverse grouping of one species, or on the other extreme, to place them into a number of different species and/or varieties. Today, most botanists have agreed to disagree and call all North American plants C. parviflorum, with at most three varieties in existence: two small flowered plants, v. parviflorum and v. makasin, and one larger flowered form, v. pubescens.

Cypripedium parviflorum plants
Cypripedium parviflorum v. makasin is a small slipper orchid of North America. In coloring it is very similar to the Eurasian C. calceolus, and for many years all North American plants were considered varieties of that species. Grown and photographed by Darcy Gunnlaugson.

To further confound things, even the small flowered plants don’t quite fit any easy classification. The one attribute that seems constant across the range of plants now known as v. parviflorum and v. makasin is they all have smaller flowers when compared to the larger flowered v. pubescens. In fact it is this attribute that in the end holds this rather uncertain classification scheme together. For purposes of horticultural interest, I will speak of the two small flowered forms as distinct varieties since they clearly are different in form and cultural needs.

The small yellow lady slipper is a perennial, deciduous, terrestrial orchid of generally moist to wet habitats. Like the flower, the plants tend to be smaller in size compared to v. pubescens, averaging between 15-30 cm tall, with v. makasin commonly being a smaller plant than v. parviflorum. The thin stem is lightly pubescent and usually carries 3-4 lanceolate leaves held opposite each other, 3-10 cm long, and 1-3 cm wide. They are usually a pleasing apple green and also are lightly pubescent. The rhizome is thick and clumping with numerous roots.

One or two flowers (rarely three) grace the apex of the stem, each attended by one floral bract. The flowers are small, not more than 4.5 cm in total spread, and often smaller. The dorsal sepal is held more or less erect and is often twisted with undulating margins, 2-4 cm long and around 2 cm wide. The synsepal is similar in shape, but is held much more flat than the dorsal sepal, and is bifurcated at its apex. The slightly descending petals are relatively long and narrow, and twist 2-4 times forming a light braid, 3-5 cm long and less than 1 cm wide. The lip averages not more than 3 cm in length and in extreme specimens can be half that size. It ranges from ovoid to ellipsoid in shape and has a small orifice. The staminode is elongate and roughly triangular in shape.

Flower color is somewhat variable except that the lip is virtually always a clear, rich lemon yellow. The sepals and petals tend to be similarly colored on any given plant with a light green-yellow base color, and yet looking brown to dark brown in overall color. This is due to spotting and blotching of said flower parts, forming anything from a near pure dark purple-brown look (typical of v. makasin) to a more striated pattern. The lip is often spotted and blotched with crimson or brick red, especially in its interior and around the orifice margins. In extreme examples this red blotching can occur over the entire lip – a more common occurrence in western forms of v. makasin. The yellow staminode as well is often blotched with crimson. Variety makasin is well know for its intensely sweet odor, while v. parviflorum has a more subtle floral scent.

Cypripedium parviflorum v. makasin eastern form
The eastern form of Cypripedium parviflorum v. makasin has a very consistent appearance with dark colored sepals and petals and red blotching confined to the interior of the lip, lip orifice, and staminode. These eastern plants are commonly seen in wet habitats on calcareous substrates. Grown and photographed by Ron Burch.

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Where to buy lady slipper orchids online – North American sources

People often ask me where they can buy good, healthy Cypripedium stock. This is an important issue for several reasons. First and foremost, you need healthy plants from the outset to ensure success. Cypripediums are by and large quite difficult to maintain in cultivation, so there is no point in getting unhealthy plants only to fail with them time after time. Second, there are many plants being sold online that are not nursery propagated, but rather taken from the wild. These often are in very bad shape by the time the buyer receives them, almost guaranteeing failure. Also, such practices are taking their toll on populations the world over and could lead to the extinction of the rarer species in nature within a couple decades. For more about what healthy stock should look like please see this article: Lady slipper orchids, genus Cypripedium – what to look for when buying them.

Cypripedium reginae rescued
This large clump of Cypripedium reginae was bought from Tom Nelson. It was rescued legally from a construction project in Minnesota and grown on by Paul Perakos in Connecticut. Photo by Paul Perakos.

So, with these considerations in mind, here is a list of quality North American nurseries where you can buy lady slipper orchids online with confidence. Realize that Cyp propagation is an expensive and time consuming process, thus prices tend to be rather high – in the order of $30-50 per plant for the more common varieties, and much higher for rare species in particular, often starting in the $100 range and higher for the really rare stuff. Fortunately, hybrid plants are being mass produced now, and for the most part are reasonably priced and also easy to grow compared to pure species.

These nurseries are not ranked in an any particular order, nor is this list exhaustive, however all offer healthy, lab produced plants. These are links, so feel free to click them for direct access to their sites. Realize that most nurseries have two shipping seasons – fall and early spring, when the plants are dormant. Most cannot ship internationally. Also, stocks sell out fast, so you need to be ready to order as soon as possible – if you wait, you will have far less selection to choose from.

USA Nurseries

1. Gardens at Post Hill, Morris Connecticut – this business is relatively new and owned and operated by Ron Burch, a good friend. Ron, with his formidable skills in tissue culture turned his talents to Cypripediums in the early 2000s, and so began his nursery. The quality of plant you will receive from him is guaranteed to be great, and his prices are very reasonable. He also has one of the best selections in within the USA, but realize that many are very limited offers, so they sell out fast. Ron is generous with his knowledge and shares it without proprietary interest, but do realize he is a busy man. He often sells plants of his own creation, as well as a line of collaborative hybrids made with our fellow friend and Cyp grower, Paul Perakos. To my knowledge he does not ship internationally.

2. Great Lakes Orchids, Belleville, Michigan – a good friend of Ron’s is Ray Price, another “artist” at propagating temperate orchids. While his is a for profit business, he also is greatly interested in orchid conservation, and has donated time and effort (and plants!) for conservation projects. He carries a number of native Cyps as well as very unusual species including (as of this writing, February 2012) Platanthera blepariglottis, ciliaris, and psychodes, as well as the almost never offered Arethusa bulbosa. It is great to have folks like Ray around!
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