Cypripedium reginae is more commonly known as Pink and White Lady’s Slipper, Queens Lady’s Slipper or Showy Lady’s Slipper (Kartesz, 1994). Coming from the plantae kingdom, it is of the order asparagales, and Orchidaceae, and the subfamily Cypripedioideae, of the genus cypripedium (Kartesz, 1994). This herbaceous perennial flower, which is a terrestrial temperate orchid, is the largest orchid native to North America. The plant may be found across a most of the eastern states in North America, including Atlanta, Arkansas and Tennessee, in the south to North Dakota in the west, and up to Canada where it is found in the eastern areas of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland (Nature Serve, 2014; Kartesz, 1994). In Minnesota, where it has been the state flow since 1902, it is one of the rarest wild flowers in state (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014). The numbers have been generally diminishing in the wild, with the plant having already vanished from some areas where it was historically found (Nature Serve, 2014).
The main reason behind the decline has been the decline in suitable habitat. The plant grows in damp conditions where there is a high level of light, and can be fund in damp woods, spruce and tamarack bogs, open fens, wet meadows and prairies (Nature Serve, 2014; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2014). The plant may also be fund at the edges of lakes, in ravines, in limestone quarries, on sandy shorelines and algific talus slopes (Nature Serve, 2014).
In Minnesota, one location where the flower can be fund with some effort is Beckham Lake, located in Isanti County (Minnesota Dept. Of Natural Resources, 2014). The conditions suitable for plant growth have been declining as development takes place and land usage changes, including urban development and water pollution from mineral extraction (Felbaum, 1995). In Minnesota the plant is subject to stage legislative protection since 1925, as it is illegal to pick, uproot, or unearth the plant (Minnesota Dept. Of Natural Resources, 2014). It may be argued that this protection is needed due to the long lifecycle.
The lifecycle of the species is long, it may take up to 16 years for a plant to grow from a seed and produce their first flowers (Nature Serve, 2014). The plants reproductive process is the typical asexual reproduction of vegetative reproduction, and starts between June and mid July, when the plant is in bloom (Nature Serve, 2014). Although the plants are self compatible, insects are needed to act as pollinators to move the pollen to the stigma (Wilson, 2007). The pollinators are most frequently syphid flies, Magachile bees and beetles (Stoutamire, 1967). The pollinator will usually move beneath the anthers which bear the pollen before being guided past the pistils due to the structure of the flower (Nature Serve, 2014; Wilson, 2007).
The rate of reproduction is constrained by the limited number of flowers found on each stalk; it is usual for each stalk to have between 1 and 2 flowers, but unusual stalks with 3 or 4 flowers may also be found. It has been speculated that one of the reasons for the decline of the plant has been the difficulty in this reproduction due tot he structure of the plant, with Guignard (1887) reporting seeing a butterfly; a non-native European Skipper, become trapped in the labellum effectively preventing pollination by smaller pollinators. This is speculation as there does not appear to have been any robust field trials to test the hypothesis.
The pollinated plant may up to half a million seeds. However, many of these seed, which are as fine as flour, will not find a suitable locations to grow. Unlike other flowering plants, the seed of this flower does not have a seed coat, nor does it have a differentiated embryo or an endosperm. In common with other members of the Orchid family, the seeds will germinate in the presence of certain varieties of fungus that provide the seeds with the nutrients required for growth. The actual method of dispersal appears to be divergent, the waterproof characteristic of the seed suggests water dispersion, the light weight also facilitates wind borne dispersal, or the carriage of the seeds on animals (Wilson, 2007).
Once the seed has geminated it will grow at a very slow rate; no more than a few millimeters, or the length of a pencil point, in its’ first year. It can take up to 16 years for the plant to produce flowers and be ready for reproduction to take place. Once established the plants have a long life, believed to be up to 100 years (Nature Serve, 2014). It is also known that the plants may not always flower every year, and can enter a dormancy phase (Wilson, 2007)
When examining reproduction, it is worth noting that some lady slipper may also reproduce by the production of offshoots, becoming separate plants (Wilson, 2007).
The structure of the reproductive system, with the stamens united with the anthers is shown in figure 1 below. The stamens within a Lady’s Slipper are inserted onto the style, known as gynandrous. Unlike other orchids where there is only one perfect stamen, the Lady’s slipper will have two good stamens. The image below shows the anthers (a) of the two good stamens. Stig is the stigma. There is also an aborted stamen (st), and the growth that should be another anther has changed into a growth that has a petal like appearances (Gray, 2010). The role of these organs in reproduction has already been explained in section 2.
Figure 1; Stigma, stamens and anthers of Lady’s Slipper
The Orchidaeae family is, arguably, the world’s single largest plant family. The entire family includes almost 30,000 species, with many of the flowers evolving in different ways, with the plants adapting to their environment, and evolving to meet the needs of pollinators to provide for mutual benefit. The range of diversity is great, with the largest proportion of the family species being found in tropical regions, but a large number of temperate terrestrial orchids have also evolved. In a molecular analysis undertaken with a sample of 56 different orchid genus Cypripedium, Li (et al., 2010) confirmed that this was a monophyletic family. The evolution of the plant can be traced into different evolutionary splits. The first is seen with the split between the Mesoamerican species and the Asian species. Tracing cypripedium reginae, the Mesoamerican split into two lines, and the development continued, with cypripedium reginae emerging from one of these lines. In previous studies morphological characteristics, such as the color of the flowers, was used to assess evolution, but Li (et al., 2010) found results that the evolution was based in distribution, with local adaptations found.
Shefferson (et al., 2007) find that the most recent common ancestor is cypripedium californicum, where the divergence into three varieties; cypripedium montanum, cypripedium parviflorum, and cypripedium reginae. A key characteristic of the cypripedium reginae has been the way it has adapted and evolved so that its germination and growth is associated with fungi that are available in its own habitat. In many orchid types association with specific fungi are not usually noted, but in this genus there have been association between the plant and tulasnella deliquescens, and in another plant there was an association found with hygrocybe cantherellus (Shefferson 2007). This is a high level of specificity, but the reasons for this development are uncertain, as there are many other potential associations which provided opportunities (Shefferson et al., 2007). It appears that the evolution is the result of sympatric populations (Shefferson et al., 2007).
The plant is not toxic, but this does not mean that the plant has not evolved with a few natural defenses. One may argue that such as stunning place, with large noticeable flowers may have vulnerability due to their attractiveness. However, chemical analysis of the plant has reveals the presence of different chemicals including alkaloids and phenolics (Wilson, 2007). The plant also contains high levels potassium oxalate, which if ingested could cause burning to the throat and vomiting, inhalation can irritate lungs, contact with the skin and eyes may cause soreness and inflammation. Penanthrenequinones, for example cypripediquinone, are also present; a substance which has been known to cause allergic reactions (Wilson, 2007). The stem also has coarse hairs along the shaft which are known to cause irritation and contact dermatitis, anther form of protection, with stems that can be more than 1 meter in length this may also be useful defense.
Gray, Asa, (2010), The elements of botany for beginners and for schools, Nabu Press
Guignard, J. A, (1887), Beginning an acquaintance with wild bees, Annual Report of the Entomological Society of Ontario 17, 51-53
Felbaum, Mitchell, (1995), Endangered and Threatened Species of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, PA: Wild Resource Conservation Fund
Kartesz, J.T. (1994), A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland, Portland, OR., Timber Press
Li, Ji-hong; Liu, Zhong-jian; Salazar, Gerardo A; Bernhardt, Peter; Perner, Holger; Tomohisa, Yukawa; Jin, Xiao-hua; Chung, Shih-wen; Luo, Yi-bo, (2011), Molecular phylogeny of Cypripedium (Orchidaceae: Cypripedioideae) inferred from multiple nuclear and chloroplast regions, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 61(2), 308-320
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, (2014), Showy Lady’s Slipper, accessed at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snapshots/plants/showyladysslipper.html on 12th July 2014
Nature Serve, (2014), Cypripedium reginae, accessed at http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Cypripedium+reginae+ on 12th July 2014
Shefferson, Richard P; Taylor, D. Lee; Weiss, Michael; Garnica, Sigisfredo; McCormick, Melissa K; Adams, Seth; Gray, Hope M; McFarland, Jack W; Kull, Tiiu; Tali, Kadri; Yukawa, Tomohisa; Kawahara, Takayuki; Miyoshi, Kazumitsu; Lee, Yung-I, (2007), The Evolutionary History Of Mycorrhizal Specificity Among Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Evolution, 61(6), 1380 — 1390
Stoutamire, W. P, (1967), The floral biology of the lady’s-slippers, Michigan Botanist 6, 159-175
Wilson, M. F, (2007), Medicinal Plant Fact Sheet: Cypripedium: Lady’s slipper orchids. A collaboration of the IUCN Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, PCA-Medicinal Plant Working Group, and North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, Arlington, Virginia
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