Friday, June 6, 2014

White Lady's Slipper

It had been a cool, prolonged spring in Connecticut, although recent stretches of sun and warmth have allowed the local flora to catch up. The Pink Lady's Slipper orchids bloomed right about on schedule for Memorial Day and the end of May. Now, the Pitcher Plants and Mountain Laurel are in bloom, on time or even a little early.

While hiking in Mansfield Center the other week, I ran across something I hadn't seen before in person: a white Lady's Slipper. This is an albino individual of the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), not one of the other species of the genus. The plants seem to vary a fair amount in their flower coloration, but C. acaule plants without a trace of pink are pretty uncommon.

Speaking of abnormal Lady's Slippers, the photo above shows a strange one, with one of its two leaves attached midway up the pedicel (stem subtending the flower). The specific epithet of C. acaule means "stemless," and I have never seen one before or since with leaves that didn't emerge directly from the ground, from a stubby subterranean stem. Other species in the genus have leafy stems with elongated internodes between the leaves, but this condition seems to be a very rare throwback for the Pink Lady's Slipper. The plant was the sole example of this growth form in a large population growing in Pitch Pine woods in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.

I'm uncertain of whether either of the odd forms of C. acaule described here have a genetic basis. It would be interesting to try to find the plants in future years and see if the flowers are consistent. I suspect that the albino coloration is caused by a mutation and will remain from year to year, but the plant with the abnormal elongated internode might have been the result of a single season's disrupted development.