Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, October 2011
Slipper Orchids - by Heather Smith
It's a funny-looking plant and not to everyone's taste but I love them.  There are slipper orchids in different regions of the world but the ones I know are the Cypripediums of Europe and N America, Paphiopedilums of Asia and Phragmipediums of S America.
For a long time I had no success with the hardy Cyps - expensive failures - so concentrated on Paphiopedilums, beginning with hybrids, grown as indoor plants These are easy and very rewarding. All they need is a north- or west-facing place where the temperature does not drop below 50F, because their natural habitat is up in trees under the canopy in rain forest. Watered once a week and fed once a fortnight they will happily grow and flower.  They have no set flowering time but the flowers definitely last longer in Winter.

Paphiopedilum Des Bruleries

The white flowers pictured above are of a  plant, bought very small, of  non-flowering size, now flowering for the first time.
It's a hybrid called Paphiopedilum Des Bruleries and well worth waiting for.  The other Paph. pictured on the left is an unnamed hybrid but gorgeous.
Phragmipediums I have had no success with but they have the most amazing flower forms so I suppose I'll have to keep trying - when I can get them.
After many failures I have at last had success with Cypripedium regina (pictured) which has now returned twice and increased.

I intend to try with C. californicum, which I have seen in the wild on Mt Eddy in California in an upland moist area. It was growing in large congested clumps. It is said to be easy but I don't think any of them are actually easy!  

C. californicum was growing in the open but C calceolus and C. regina seem to  prefer a shady, humus-rich place that will not dry out.

I could pick a cheaper orchid in which to specialize but then I would miss these beautiful and, sometimes, astonishing flowers

Cypripedium regina