Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lady Slippers

Lady Slippers are so special that when discovered it is like finding a treasure.  Wildflower lovers will keep their location secret, in fear that those who don’t understand their complexity will pick them or dig them up.  Both spell disaster to the plant.  Just to germinate, they require acidic soil that contains a fungus of the Rhizoctonia genus.  Like most orchids, their seeds do not contain a food supply.  Under the right conditions, the fungus will crack the seed and attach itself.  It will pass along nutrients to promote germination and growth.  Once the plant is established and producing its own nutrients, the fungus will extract food from the slipper’s roots.  In this way, both benefit from their relationship.  Lady Slippers take years to reach the flowering stage and bees are its sole pollinator.  Attracted by color and scent, the bee enters through the front slit into a one-way labyrinth that contains no nectar.  Near the exit, hairs will grab onto any pollen the bee may be carrying before depositing new pollen onto its back.  Such an elaborate system leads to very few flowers being pollinated.  However, a pollinated flower can produce 60,000 seeds.  In that a Lady Slipper’s average life span is 20 years with some living much longer, they have a long time to successfully produce one pollinated flower.   (Photo:  Donna Roscoe)

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