Lady slipper orchids are the easiest for beginners to identify. Their blooms always have a sort of pouch, often shaped like a moccasin. Because this modified petal looks so distinct and so delicate, the whole family of plants takes the name lady slipper orchid. There are two well-known genra of lady slipper orchids. The first are the Cypripediums, native to North America, East Asia, and part of Europe. The second are the Paphiopedilums, native to Southeast Asia, but very easy to grow and popular among orchid fanciers. The vast majority of orchids, from any family, have special adaptations to attract certain pollinating insects. Some flowers produce nectar at the base of a long tube, for example, and only an insect with a correspondingly long proboscis can pollinate the bloom. Lady slipper orchids also have an unusual pollinating system. Insects are attracted to the “slipper” part of the orchid and can tumble inside. To get back out, the insect must crawl near the stamens, and as it swipes by, the flower is pollinated. Cypripediums The Cypripedium genre of the lady slipper orchid family mainly live in habitats not associated with orchids: as far south as Mexico, but also as far north as Alaska and Siberia. Cypripediums are also terrestrial orchids, that is, they are anchored in the soil, growing from a rhizome that produces roots, stems, and leaves. Many species, especially in colder climates, must grow for up to fifteen years before producing their first blossom. However, these kinds of lady slipper orchid may also live to be 100 years old. Lady slipper orchids are extremely rare and endangered in most of their North American and European habitats. In the past, they were victims of plant collectors who dug them from the wild but could not necessarily keep them alive at home. One lovely yellow and red variety of lady slipper orchid in England is so rare, only one stand is known to exist in the wild. And the local wildlife trust keeps its location a tight secret. Paphiopedilums Paphiopedilums, called ‘paphs’ for short, originate from the tropical and subtropical areas of Southeast Asia. Like most lady slippers, paphs are terrestrial plants. Paphs are comparatively easy to grow at home, are easy to cross breed, and they have very exotic looking flowers, so they are popular among fanciers. Thousands of hybrid paphs have been registered; probably thousands of others have been bred but not cataloged.
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