Lady Slipper Orchids, a primer

Paphiopedilum is the “lady slipper orchid”.
Characterized by a cup-like lip, called a pouch, their native habitat is the jungles of the Far East and Indonesia. They are related to our own North Carolina lady slippers. These plants have flowers of heavy substance and their blooms will last from one three months. They come in a fascinating array of colors and forms.
Paphiopedilums (genus Paphiopedilum) – often abbreviated as Paph (and known among orchid enthusiasts as paphs) are flowering plants in the orchid family. The genus Paphiopedilum contains nearly 100 accepted species. Paphs are also commonly referred to as “lady’s-slippers” or “slipper orchids” due to the unusual shape of the pouch-like labellum of the flower. Mother nature added this unique feature for a good reason…. As insects fly into this pouch seeking nectar or water, they are temporarily trapped. To exit they have to climb up past the flower’s stigmatic surface, which allows the pollen attached to the insect to be transferred to the stigma of the flower. Voila… pollination!

Slipper orchids are native to South China, India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, and come in a large range of sizes, colors, and shapes. Most Paphiopedilum species are semi-terrestrial and grow naturally among humus layers on the tropical forest floor, while a few are found on limestone cliffs near the oceans edge. The leaves can be short and rounded or long and narrow, and some have a mottled pattern. The plants grow in stages. As new growths mature, older growths will slowly die off. A new growth will bloom when it is fully mature, producing a raceme (bloom spike) between the stiff fleshy leaves. They typically bloom once a year, and large plants with multiple growths can have a multitude of blooms. Blooms with heavy substance can often last several months. Large plants can be divided and some plants are alive today are over 100 years old. The roots are typically thick and fleshy and, when properly planted, form a tight lump. The key to successfully growing paphs is to keep them in conditions that resemble their natural culture: indirect light, a bark based growing medium, light fertilization and appropriate watering (water thoroughly then let it dry out every 5-7 days).
There are many books available about the early history of orchid collecting and “orchid hunters”. These are fascinating stories and illustrate how truly addictive orchid collecting can be. Enjoy!

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