The Yellow Lady’s Slipper, Afoot in Central Park

Much to everybody’s surprise, there’s a rare, native Lady’s Slipper blooming in Central Park. The New York Times reports that a dozen flower buds have been growing over the past few weeks, and they’re starting to open. The plant is the Yellow Lady’s Slipper, also known as Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens. This orchid species is native to almost all of the USA and Canada, but increasingly rare. It once bloomed in New York City, but its large, brilliant flowers can’t help but be noticed, and it disappeared long before the skyscrapers arrived. In an attempt to bring it back, Central Park staff had purchased and planted one in the Ramble.

Introduced by woodland managers for the Central Park Conservancy well over a decade ago, the plant was purchased from a reputable grower and planted at a time when the orchids were only beginning to be commercially available. It was then forgotten until it began blooming two years later, to the surprise of both staff and urban ecologists. I imagine the first naturalist to recount this rarest of Manhattan sightings must have been greeted as if he were reporting an alien abduction.

The return of this “ethereal masterwork of nature” to New York City is surprising enough, but its public location is even more so. Despite thousands of park visitors passing the orchid daily, it has not been damaged or dug up, which often seems to be the fate of these beautiful Lady’s Slippers. Please remember that native orchids are endangered, and you should never pick a wild orchid or dig up the plant. It’s illegal, and the trauma almost always kills it.

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