Lady slippers are beautiful plants native to North America’s wet pastures, swamps, and damp woodland areas. As part of the orchid family, they’re fussy about their living and growing conditions, which can be difficult to mimic. If you want to add these elegant beauties to your garden or home, you might wonder where to purchase them.
You can buy lady slipper plants from online or local nurseries if they have them available. These plants are difficult to grow from seed, transplant, or propagate. That is why finding growers that have them available can be a problem and why they’re expensive to purchase.
The clever lady slippers trick pollinators into falling into an internal water trap, dispersing the lady slipper’s pollen out when the insects escape from their unintended bath. These novel plants are fascinating and colorful and no doubt you want to acquire one of your own. This article will explore what you need to know about the lady slipper plant, why it’s hard to come by, and how you can obtain one.
Buying Lady Slippers: How to Find Reputable Sources
Due to their complex growth requirements, lady slipper plants are not commonly found in traditional garden centers. However, they are occasionally available at specialized online and local nurseries. These plants are notoriously difficult to grow from seed, transplant, or propagate, contributing to their rarity and high cost.
Online Nurseries and Stock Availability
You’ll find many nurseries with links to purchase these lovely plants while shopping online. However, disappointment ensues when you see the dreaded ‘out of stock’ listed on most websites.
Available plants in some nurseries are most likely from successful transplantation from their natural habitat or propagation with underground rhizomes. With the advancement of technology, some growers have found higher success in germinating seeds in a laboratory environment.
Still, because of their rarity and selective nature, when lady slippers are in stock, prices can range from $30 to over $100, depending on the variety sold.
Before searching for a grower, ensure you know a healthy plant’s characteristics as listed below:
- The roots should be white or light in color, but recently picked rhizomes may have a ‘dirty’ appearance. The roots should not be black or have a foul odor.
- The roots should have rounded and light-colored tips. There should be no cuts or broken roots.
- The rhizome will be dark in color but should have no rotten odor, indicative of rot.
- Rhizomes should be firm with no soft or mushy spots as with bulbs. Soft and mushy means decay has formed.
- Buds should be light in color and free of decay.
Ensure the grower or nursery you purchase your lady slipper plant from is legitimate and reputable.
To search for nonlocal growers, you can use Google search or try utilizing these other resources:
Many sellers on Etsy share their talent with handcrafted items, but did you know you can also find growers selling seeds and plants?
There are many sellers on Etsy with orchid varieties for sale. Some sell seeds, rhizomes, or the whole plant. Be sure to read the feedback left by other buyers before purchasing to ensure they send their customers a healthy product.
Facebook is a vast social media network. There you’ll find nursery businesses and Facebook groups. Some groups cater to people to trade and sell different plant species.
When you interact with people with the same passion as you (plants), you’re likely to get advice and direction to find a reputable place or person selling these popular orchids.
With the rise of social media, many people forget to utilize resources like forums.
However, forum platforms like Reddit provide categories of discussions covering various topics. And plants are one of them. Reddit is full of expert and non-expert people swapping stories, questions, and advice.
Websites like Garden.org also provide a community forum for people to discuss and ask questions about plants.
Word of mouth is a compelling way of spreading information, and both forums and social media are full of people willing to help you.
Why Lady Slippers Are Hard to Find
This beautiful plant grows as a wildflower in the eastern United States forests of mixed deciduous trees and belongs to the orchid family. It produces green oval leaves and one to three lovely flowers similar to a woman’s slipper shape, where it gets its name.
There are different color varieties, but pink is the most commonly recognized color when people think of this plant. This clever plant evolved to trap pollinators in its slipper-shaped flower to force the insects to help in fertilization.
The lady slipper orchid can produce up to 50,000 seeds in a single pod, but the germination rate is low and sometimes takes several years to germinate successfully. It also doesn’t bloom every year. These plants are hardy in zones 2 through 11, depending on the variety.
Their natural habitat varies, and you can typically find them under the canopy of mixed deciduous trees growing on mossy slopes or in shady areas with well-drained soil. These specific habitat requirements are why lady slippers may be tricky to come by.
These lovely plants are fussy little guys regarding growing, transplanting, and propagating. They desire a particular habitat to grow in and only germinate with the help of fungus within the soil.
Finding a nursery with a specialized grower is the easiest way to obtain one versus attempting to grow one from seed or disturbing it in its habitat.
However, there are several factors to consider when purchasing these beautiful plants:
Difficult to Grow From Seed
When a lady slipper produces seeds, it sends thousands of these lightweight seeds across the woodland or wet grassland areas for a chance to be germinated. Even though they make thousands of seeds at a time, most will not have an opportunity to grow. There’s no endosperm to provide nutrients to the seed for germination.
For a lady slipper seed to be activated, it relies on a fungus in the soil to break open the seed and feed the new seedling for growth. This process of symbiosis is typical of most orchid varieties. It takes several years for this plant to grow from seed to a mature plant.
And since the seeds need the help of soil fungus to begin growing, it’s challenging to grow them from seed successfully outside their natural environment.
If you are successful in growing one from seed, you’ll be waiting a while to enjoy seeing their beautiful flowers. Because when growing from seed, it can take a decade or longer for lady slipper plants to bloom for the first time.
Propagating this plant can be complicated, and it’s best you do it in the spring or fall. However, growers have a higher success rate than growing from seed or transplanting. Even for specialized growers, propagating these orchids is expensive and time-consuming.
Propagating lady slippers is done by digging up and dividing the rhizomes. Rhizomes are underground root stems that spread and produce shoots, making more plants from the same root system.
You may be familiar with other plants that grow from rhizomes, such as the following examples:
- Snake plant
- ZZ plant
The lady slipper orchid has a higher success rate when grown outdoors than becoming a captive houseplant. To grow these plants successfully, you should plant the rhizomes in areas that mimic their natural environment as closely as possible.
These plants thrive in places under trees where it’s shaded all day with dapples of sunlight shining through the tree branches and leaves. Once the rhizomes begin to grow, it may take a couple of years or longer before it begins to flower.
Almost Impossible to Transplant
Lady slippers are sensitive to environmental changes from being transplanted and rarely survive. Because of their fussiness when moved, these wild orchids have less than a 5% success rate when transplanted from their natural habitat.
If you’re lucky enough to have some on your property, moving the plant to a potted environment in your home or adding them to your garden may cause its demise.
In some states, picking and transplanting this plant is regulated, and disturbing them on federal lands is illegal, no matter which state you visit. So, if you’re considering picking some of these lovely plants for your garden, you must first check your state regulations.
Some lady slipper varieties are deemed endangered or of “special concern.”
How to Grow Your Lady Slipper Plant
When you’re finally able to add this plant to your garden, take extra care to ensure it survives and has favorable growing conditions.
Whether planting rhizomes or a whole plant, you should place it in a well-shaded area that doesn’t receive direct sunlight unless it’s a short period of the morning sun.
These orchids prefer their light rays dancing through the branches and leaves of the trees covering them. The soil should be well-drained, and you should only water your lady slippers when the soil becomes too dry.
Chopped-up leaves are excellent for covering your orchid plants as a mulch to encourage growth with the help of fungus that forms in the soil.
The lady slipper plant is finicky when disturbed in its natural habitat. Transplanting and growing from seed is more challenging than propagating by rhizomes, which is still tricky. Because of this issue, the best way to obtain one of these lovely flowers is by finding an experienced grower selling them.
This lack of availability can pose a problem because they sell on many nursery websites, but you can utilize other online resources for advice on where to purchase them.