In nature, we are quite used to assuming the “every man for himself/survival of the fittest” mentality. A closer look, however, indicates the importance of collaboration for just about every species. Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids, Cypripedium acaule, are one such example. These plants are beginning to bloom in Midcoast Maine and will be displaying their unique flowers farther north any day now. These rarely seen orchids of our northern forests are a treat to find, especially as we have relatively few wildflowers that are so showy and unusual-looking and they exemplify a hopeful view of collaboration.

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The odd shape of these flowers (shown left just starting to bloom on Vinalhaven, ME on May 28, 2017) attracts bees which then get stuck inside with only one exit, via picking up some pollen and leaving pollen behind on the Lady’s Slipper stigma–a mutually beneficial arrangement. This strategy allows pollination to occur, but for the seeds to then germinate, they require yet another species to support. Among the many odd characteristics of the Orchid family, seeds of these plants don’t tend to package the nutrients needed for long-term seed survival. Instead, in the case of Lady’s Slippers, they require a fungus in the soil to lend some nutrients to the seed and provide just the right environment for the seed to then germinate and grow. Once that young Lady’s Slipper grows and develops a strong root system full of fungus-pleasing nutrients, that fungus that helped out during the Lady’s Slipper’s infancy is then able to acquire some nutrients for itself.

If ever you feel trapped in a seemingly competitive world, seek opportunities for collaboration in unlikely places. Perhaps you’ll find it through the give and take of gardening or even through new business partnerships. What may feel like the slower path in the short-term is likely to have a much more unique and effective benefit in the long-term, just like the strategy of a Lady’s Slipper flower.

A minor caution: the leaves and stems of this plant have irritating hairs that can cause a rash, so beyond leaving them alone for their own sake, leave them alone for yours, too. Apparently Lady’s Slippers are not interested in collaborating with just anyone.

For more information about these special orchids, check out the following:

USDA Forest Service Plant of the Week: Pink Lady’s Slipper 

Skidmore’s Page on the Pink Lady’s Slipper 

 

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