Wednesday, June 8, 2011

North Dakota Lady's Slippers

Who says North Dakota lacks in the wildflower department? The wildlife refuge I work for in North Dakota (Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge) owns and manages twenty-eight waterfowl protection areas (WPA), which include some of the healthiest native plant communities remaining in the state. Yesterday, my supervisor handed me a project to monitor existing populations of lady's slippers - a dream job for me. As I cruised the first area on an ATV, I didn't know what to expect. Before long, I was forced to park the vehicle and walk the rest of the way due to such a heavy abundance of "slippers."

Greater yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin) is a northwestern variety of C. parviflorum. Ohio has the eastern variety "lesser yellow lady's sipper" (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum), which is endangered there. The last variety of C. parviflorum is the most common (var. pubescens), which is a larger species that prefers less exposed areas such as woodlands. The species above, nor any species I found that day, are currently listed in the county I found them - Foster county.

The most abundant species I found was small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum), which covered the sedge meadows by the hundreds. 

 Deeper into the areas, I came across groups of C. parviflorum var. makasin among C. candidum plants, which are two that have been well documented to create a hybrid, C. x andrewsii. Mind you, I haven't been able to find either of these species in distribution maps for Foster county. They have been found about two counties to the north according to bonap.org and other sources.

 Soon after I found a group of plants that stuck out like sore thumbs. They were in prime maturity with an ivory color to the lip and maroon - yellow sepals. I immediately thought C. x andrewsii. This plant had never been documented in this county before. I only found these plants near populations of both yellow and white slippers. Flora of North Americas article on C. x andrewsii.

 As if the day hadn't given me enough pleasure, I stumbled upon a small cluster of plants on the very last area I visited. The plants seemed taller than all the others I had seen but perhaps that is due to their added exposure. Anyway, I saw hundreds and hundreds of small white lady's slippers throughout the day and none came remotely close to this extreme and beautiful variant. The lips were speckled with pink glitter and the tongue had a heavy splash of red. A truly beautiful variant!

I can only hope for more opportunities like this. In a couple of weeks, I hope to add to this post with showy lady's slipper (C. reginae) as well.