Harvesting Lady Slipper Seed Pods – How To Collect Lady Slipper Seeds

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

If you are an orchid enthusiast, you are aware of the lovely Lady Slipper orchid. Orchid propagation can be tricky, even for a professional grower. In their wild state, the fungus is plentiful but germinating them in a laboratory or at home may prove unsuccessful. It is no mystery how to collect Lady Slipper seeds, but the real challenge comes in trying to grow them. It is possible, however, with a few tips and tricks.

Lady Slipper Seed Germination

Lady Slipper orchids are terrestrial plants native to the eastern United States and Canada. This is one of the largest orchids and it grows wild in dry woods, especially pine forests. The orchid blooms April through May and produces large seed pods filled with 10,000 to 20,000 seeds. Growing Lady Slippers from seed can pose a problem due to its need for a symbiotic relationship with Rhizoctonia mycorrhizae, a natural soil-borne fungus.

Successful growers of these orchids admit that Lady Slipper seed germination is capricious. They desire the proper environment, growing medium, and chilling period. Seeds from Lady Slipper and most orchids lack endosperm. This means they do not have fuel to propel germination and growth. That is where the fungus comes in.

It feeds the embryo and resulting seedling as it grows. The threads of the fungus break into the seed and attach to the interior, feeding it. Once the seedling is older and has developed roots, it can feed itself. In professional growing situations, the seeds are “flasked” with the appropriate growing medium.

How to Collect Lady Slipper Seeds

Lady Slipper seed pods form after the blooms have faded. The seeds from Lady Slipper orchids are very tiny but numerous. Professional growers say to collect the pods when they are still green, as this seems to influence germination.

Crack open the pods and use tweezers to release the seed. Seeds contain a germination inhibitor that can be removed by bleaching the seed with a 10% solution for 2 to 6 hours. You will need to flask the seed in baby food containers or other glass bottles that have been sterilized.

You need a sterile environment to sow the seeds. The medium is agar starting powder mixed at 90% water and 10% powder. Pour that into the sterile flasks. Wear sterile gloves and clean all surfaces before you start the next step.

Growing Lady Slippers from Seed

Once you have sterilized everything, use forceps or long-handled tweezers to transfer the seed to the growing medium. Cover the top of the flask with foil. Place the flasks in total darkness to germinate where temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (18-21 C.).

Keep the medium moist, but not soggy, with water that has been acidified with the addition of a little bit of apple cider vinegar. Once seeds have sprouted, keep the medium on the dry side.

As seedlings develop leaves, gradually move them to a warm area with 75% shade or 20 inches (51 cm.) below fluorescent tubes. Repot when the seedlings are several inches (5 to 10 cm.) high. Use half vermiculite with half perlite as your planting medium.

With a little luck and some good care, you may have flowering Lady Slipper orchids in 2 or 3 years.

This article was last updated on

Lady Slipper Orchids – Unique Blooms to Enjoy Indoors

When most North Carolinians think of a lady slipper orchid they picture the native pink Cypripedium growing throughout our Smokey Mountains. However, did you know that the lady slipper is also a type of orchid that grows naturally on six continents?

Orchids come in all shapes and sizes. The lady slipper (Paphiopedilum-also called paph) is native to southeastern Asia and a special addition to any household or orchid collection. Lady slipper orchids come in a wide range of colors and color combinations. Combined with a distinctive pouched lip, these are guaranteed to add drama to any kind of arrangement. Like the Phalaenopsis orchid, it has become one of the most popular ways to bring natural beauty into the home.

So what makes a lady slipper so unique? Lady slippers are a sympodial terrestrial orchid, meaning they grow on the ground and have multiple growing points. Lady slippers grow horizontally as opposed to the Phalaenopsis orchid, which is monopodial and grows from a single stem increasing in height with age.

Lady slippers’ terrestrial roots are short, thick, and spongy and their leaves are thin and often mottled, making them very attractive even when not flowering. In general, green-leaved paphs prefer cooler temperatures while mottled-leaved paphs prefer warmer temperatures, but both are very adaptable. They can withstand temperatures down to 40 degrees and temperatures as high as 90 degrees.

With their short root systems, lady slippers are perfect for a person who tends to over water plants as these lack pseudobulbs and needs to be watered twice per week. As with most orchids, be sure not to water at the center of the plant as this can cause crown rot. This being said, they do like to dry out a little in between waterings.

Lady slippers should be repotted every year after blooming in a fine-grain bark mixture that allows good drainage. Since paphs are terrestrial orchids they are happiest growing in the shade or medium light. Morning sun is the best.

Fertilize on a regular schedule with a 20-20-20 fertilizer during the winter, and a high nitrogen fertilizer during the warmer growing months. Many Paphiopedilums can produce several flowers over the course of a few months so wait until the blooming spike turns brown before cutting it off. Make sure to stake the bloom while growing to prevent the weight of the bulb from bending the stem. Once the bloom is opened, a cooler temperature around 65 degrees can help prolong the bloom, which should last for two months.

While some may argue that lady slippers tend to be a bit temperamental, with the right light, water, and fertilizer they are an easy tropical orchid for anyone to grow. Their colors are striking and the foliage is a decoration all in itself. Be forewarned, after bringing one home, you may find yourself addicted to this orchid.

Photos courtesy of Atlantic Avenue Orchid and Garden.

Christian Sloan enjoys caring for orchids both at home and while working in the greenhouse at Atlantic Avenue Orchid and Garden in Raleigh.

1. Facts and Characteristics

Facts that make lady slippers unique are their pouched shape which is used as an insect trap.

They are not eating them, though—they use insects that fall in and climb back out to transfer their pollen to somewhere nearby.

Lady slippers have multiple growing points they grow horizontally, and on the ground.

They are a sympodial terrestrial orchid and have short, spongy, and thick roots.

They also have thin and mottled leaves, so it looks stunning even though they are not flowering yet.

Lady slippers can survive at low temperature, as low as 40 degrees and in high temperature as high as 90 degrees.

Since they have short root systems, it is okay to over water the plants as you need to water them twice a week. They also lack pseudobulbs.

Here are the flowers list of lady slippers:

Pink lady slipper (Cypripediumacaule)

It exhibits a little sweet-smelling scent, has deep pink flowers that 3 inches long, and blooms from late June into July.

Yellow lady slipper (Cypripediumcalceolus)

It can be found along the elevated or edges areas of bogs or in rich woodlands and blooms in early spring.

Showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae)

It grows 1 to 2 feet tall in wet meadows, swamps, bogs, and damp woodlands.

The white flower has a splash color of pink and blooms in late spring or early summer.

White lady slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

It is a small lady slipper with 6 to 12 inches in height and considered endangered.

Got Five Years? You Might Grow a Lady-Slipper

AFEW years ago, I was walking with friends in a rare bit of undisturbed Northeastern woodland when I discovered something even rarer: three pink lady-slippers in full flower. With their plump rosy pouches surmounted by three delicate petals, they bore an uncanny resemblance to their exotic cousins, the Paphiopedilum orchids.

Habitat loss has threatened many species of these hardy North American terrestrial orchids (Cypripedium acaule), and I began to wonder about breeding them in captivity. When "nursery propagated" cypripedium popped up in a garden catalog, I decided to investigate further.

Garden in the Woods, the Framingham, Mass., headquarters of the New England Wild Flower Society, uses a lady-slipper as its symbol, so I started there. Bill Cullina, nursery manager and propagator, grows cypripedium species and hybrids, including the pink and white showy lady-slipper (C. reginae), the small white lady-slipper (C. candidum), the large yellow lady-slipper (C. pubescens) and the even larger Kentucky lady-slipper (C. kentuckiense), with pale yellow pouch and reddish brown petals.

Home gardeners can cultivate and even propagate lady-slippers, he said, but it takes some diligence, not to say patience it often takes more than five years to go from seed to plant to bloom.

More important, you can't grow lady-slippers without the help of a microscopic soil fungus often found in oak or pine woodlands. Cypripedium have what Mr. Cullina calls a "highly evolved reproductive strategy," and though an individual may produce tens of thousands of tiny sporelike seeds, none will germinate in the fungus's absence.

Fortunately, plants flourish once they have leaves, even without the fungus. And when well situated, they multiply, making division possible.

The lady-slipper's beauty is also its greatest curse. "It is one of the most vulnerable to wild collection," Mr. Cullina said, adding that virtually all of the pink lady-slippers for sale in the Northeast were plucked from the woods.

Mr. Cullina has propagation beds that date back 50 years, and advances in plant propagation present an even more encouraging picture. Growers like Scott Durkee, of the Vermont Ladyslipper Company, are germinating seeds "in vitro," using an agar mixture to supply the nutrients normally provided by the fungus.

Mr. Durkee, a former engineer who taught himself the art and science of cypripedium propagation, grows 30 of the 48 known lady-slipper species, including some native to Asia. The goal is to help reintroduce plants in the wild while offering them some protection.

Ideal growing conditions vary, depending on species, but in general these plants need dappled shade, preferably with sun in the early morning and late afternoon. The soil should be loose and aerated, and high in organic matter like perlite or vermiculite. The yellow species, which Mr. Durkee recommends for beginners, thrive in alkaline soil the much more finicky pink lady-slippers prefer acidic.

Mr. Durkee encourages gardeners to make sure that they buy only lab-propagated specimens. Reputable growers, he said, will be happy to describe the propagation process. The plants tell a tale as well. Greenhouse-grown plants arrive with long white roots that end in points, while those collected in the wild tend to have multiple dark roots, cut short during harvesting.

Once in the ground, lady-slippers prefer to remain undisturbed, compensating for their slow reproductive habits with amazing longevity.

Lady Slipper Seed Germination: Tips On Growing Lady Slippers From Seed - garden

The Monarch is facing the threat of extinction! Do your part by planting wildflowers they love - all at a great discount!

Helpful Perennial Plants Resources

Hibiscus 'French Vanilla'

  • >Fall Planted Flower Bulbs
    • - Allium Flower Bulbs
    • - Crocus Flower Bulbs
    • - Daffodil Flower Bulbs
    • - Hyacinth Flower Bulbs
    • - Irises (Dutch)
    • - Tulip Flower Bulbs
    • - Unique Specialty Bulbs
    • - Lilies, Peonies,Trilliums
    • - Amaryllis Bulbs

CLEARANCE - on Remaining Varieties - LIMITED!!

Helpful Flower Bulbs Resources

No Mow Grass Seed Mix

For areas you don't really want to mow. This stunning blend of low-grow, no mow grasses is used by many DOT's nationwide.

Helpful Grass Seeds Resources

Helpful Veggies & Herbs Resources

Farmers Balm

Naturally nourishing for skin! Beeswax is said to offer anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral benefits as well. Lavender Scented

Helpful Home and Garden Resources

Customer Photo Gallery

Real people, real photos, great gardens! Browse photos sent to us by our customers and see what others are doing!

Caring For Native American Lady Slipper Orchids

Q. I have a small—very small—patch of Lady Slippers growing in my semi-shady garden that I'd like to encourage. What should I do to make them feel at home even multiply? Thanks!

A. Julia's question immediately made me think of Dr. Bill Mathis: author of "The Gardener's Guide to Growing Hardy Perennial Orchids", owner of The Wild Orchid Company (a Pennsylvania-based enterprise that supplies 100% cultivated versions of the fragile treasures none collected from the wild), and most importantly, a lifelong lover of these great plants.

His response to Julia's question? "What kind of Lady Slipper? There are several different varieties, and they all require different conditions." Luckily, the subject line of Julia's email specified yellow Lady Slippers. "That's good", he replied "they're the easiest of the native terrestrial orchids to care for."

But before we get to that care, a short orchid tutorial. Most of the world's orchids are epiphytes plants that cling to things like trees with big strong aerial roots. They are not parasites they take no nutrients from the plants they cling to—they just hang onto them. This is why most houseplant orchids are sold with their roots nestled in big chunks of bark the vast majority of epiphyte-type orchids would die if their roots were smothered in any kind of soil.

But a small percentage of the world's orchids have evolved to naturally grow in soil (although Dr. Mathis stresses that the roots of these orchids look much the same as those of the tree-hugging epiphytes, and share a similar need for exposure to air and superb drainage). These "terrestrial" orchids occur worldwide, with a nice handful of species native to the U.S. Of these American natives, the best known are the various Lady Slipper orchids, of which there are numerous varieties, with common names that include yellow, pink, 'showy' and 'Kentucky' Lady Slippers.

Dr. Mathis explains that the basic requirements for yellow Lady Slippers are excellent drainage and some shade during the day. How much shade depends on where they're growing they can take almost full sun at the Northern limits of their range (USDA Zone 4), need dappled shade or semi-shade in the middle of their range (Zones 5 and 6), and require almost deep shade at their far Southern extreme (around Zone 7). "They won't survive South of that, unless you're up in the mountains or some other cool microclimate," he explains "they just can't take the heat.

"Now, if these yellow Lady Slippers just 'showed up' in the garden, don't change a thing," insists Dr. Mathis, explaining that the seeds of these orchids are so small they can blow into new areas on a windy day from a natural site, or be carried to new sites by wildlife. "If such seeds did make their way there, germinated, and the plants grew on their own, the site is already perfect", he explains. "Just keep chemical fertilizers away from them these Lady Slippers are very low-nutrient plants, and an otherwise 'normal' application of something like Miracle-Gro or Osmocote could kill them.

"No matter how they got there, it's a good idea to water them during Spring and Summer droughts", he continues, explaining that "they need excellent drainage, but long periods of dryness can kill them." He adds that the shredded leaf mulch that I 'love so much' can do double duty here—"as a light mulch over top of the plants for winter protection and around them during the growing season to retain soil moisture and keep weeds at bay.

"Now, if she bought the plants, I suggest she deadhead the flowers as soon as they start to fade to prevent seed production", he continues. "The act of creating those tiny seeds sucks a lot of energy out of the plant, and the odds are a million to one against those seeds germinating at a created site, no matter how ideal the site may be for adult plants.

"BUT if the plants did just 'show up', it means that the conditions are perfect for seed germination," he explains. "So I'd still deadhead the majority of the flowers, but I would also allow a few to progress and produce seed. And I'd hand pollinate them with something like a flat toothpick or a Q-Tip to insure a good seed set. Then be patient the seed germinates pretty quickly, but the young plants will be 'subterranial' for several years before you see any above-ground leaves."

This need for the seed to fall in exactly the right kind of place, with exactly the right kind of symbiotic soil organisms naturally present, is one of the many reasons you should never take any native orchids from the wild, he adds. "Left undisturbed, a native colony will self-seed and grow over time. But if you take those plants to a new location, the plants themselves often die and even if they don't, no new seeds will ever germinate there. And there are plenty of sources for gardeners to obtain legal, ethical, healthy, ready-to-plant cultivated Lady Slippers there's no need to take plants from the wild, and millions of reasons not to."

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchid

Share this:

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper

Ease to Grow: Moderate.
Dormancy: Yes
Native Range: Woodlands of Eastern North America.
Zones: 2-9 (2-10).

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchid, Cypripedium pubescens, is a charming hardy orchid with large (2-3") waxy, bright, yellow, mocassin shaped flowers resemble a swollen egg. It is the most common of all North American Lady's Slippers. The pouches are buttery yellow with red dotted lips. They have an opening through which pollinating insects travel. There is no nectar, and insects have to find their way through the pouch and out the back. They probably soon learn there is little nectar available in Lady's Slippers and avoid the flowers, which may be why so few are pollinated in the wild. Flowers are singluar on medium height spikes, and topped by green and brownish maroon sepals. It is a Spring bloomer, and flowers can last up to a month or more. Flower spikes benefit from staking, and protection from the wind. Wide, long spoon shaped leaves rise along the stem of the plant. They are corrugated by thick, parallel veins. In their natural habit, Small Yellow Lady's Slipper Orchids grow in rich, moist, open, upland woods, above bogs and fens. The soil is typical low nutrient, loose, well drained and humusy. It is consistently moist, but not saturated. There is frequently a layer of decomposing leaves on the soil surface. Light is shade or dappled sunlight. Plants tolerate full sun, but do not look their best. Seeds are very fine and can be a challenge to germinate. It is winter hardy, and should be protected from rodents during dormancy. Mulch with 4+" of pine needles in the Fall. Leave at least a 1" of needles after spring cleanup. The rhizomes can be stored in damp sphagnum at 35°F (2°C) in a refrigerator for 3 or 4 months. Water with rain/distilled water, they are sensitive to mineral buildup. Do not over water, and be sure to keep the soil slightly moist during the peak of summer. Add 2 tablespoons of pelletized lime to the soil mix for each 6-8" pot. Provide boggy conditions, and do not fertilize. It is striking in beds and pots, and makes a colorful addition to the bog garden.

Our plants are not collected from the wild, and are propagated from root divisions of plants in our collection.
For Lady's Slipper Orchids size refers to age of plants. Small (1 year), medium (2-3 years), large [floweringsize] (4+ years). A multi-crown plant has 3 to 4 crowns.

Plants are shipped bare-root, wrapped in damp sphagnum moss. In it's dormant season, it will be shipped as a dormant root/rhizome. Photographs are representative of species, and not the specific plant shipped.

Height: 8" - 24+".
Plant Type: Perennial, cold temperate.
Soil: Lady's Slipper Mix with lime.
Soil pH: 7-8.
Light: Partial Sun to Dappled Light.
Use: Grows best outdoors in the bog garden or pots.

Previous Article

Ficus problems: the expert responds on Ficus diseases

Next Article

Sucks leaves