The small white lady’s slipper, threatened in the state of Michigan, is one of only six species of slipper orchids that grows in the Great Lakes states. Although not the rarest, it is certainly uncommon, especially given its distribution mainly to the southern part of our state.
This lady’s slipper is selective in its habitat, and is especially intolerant of shade and the invasion of shrubs and trees into its surroundings, demanding full sunlight and open landscapes. It is particularly fond of marly fens and wet prairies preferring alkaline or even acidic soils.
To reproduce, the plant gives off millions of seeds as fine as dust to float through the air. But in order for the seed to germinate, an extraordinary relationship must be formed between the nearly microscopic seed and a mycorrhizal fungus. This unique relationship that forms between the fungus and the seed, provides a food source for the seed allowing development of the plant to take place. Even more fascinating is the relationship that is formed between seed and fungus remains intact throughout the entire life of the orchid. A rare relationship indeed!
Normally, this orchid would be just now beginning to bloom, but with the unusual winter and early spring, most plants including this one are well ahead of schedule. However, you may wish to take a quiet Sunday stroll through one of the preferred habitats of this orchid, and if you’re lucky you may happen across one of these fragile blooms still hanging on. Just be sure to stick to the boardwalk in order to prevent our clumsy human feet from disturbing this or any other plant in its environment.