Lady's-slipper Orchid

Latin name: Cypripedium calceolus

Family: Orchidaceae

The Lady's-slipper orchid is a very striking and special plant that grows up to 30cm tall. It can take up to ten years before flowering and when it does, it produces just a single flower per plant which appears in May or June.

It is the flower's characteristic yellow slipper-shaped pouch that gives this species its name. These pouches attract bees which, once inside, can only get out through the narrow opening where they either collect or deposit pollen.

The species was once widespread and relatively common across the limestone areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. In fact, records from the late 1790s suggest that bundles of the flowers were sold on market stalls in Settle. But today, the plant is perhaps the rarest species in the UK, with just one wild site in the country which is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Because of its rarity, the site has to be guarded to ensure that it is not taken, as the illegal collection of wild orchids is still a problem.

Work has been undertaken to try and improve the fortunes of this species. Seeds have been successfully micro-propagated at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and seedlings of the Lady’s-slipper orchid have now been reintroduced to a number of sites where it is now flowering. One of these sites which welcomes members of the public is at Kilnsey Trout Farm in Wharefdale.

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Still summer’s song beats in my blood Alan Hartley

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