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Mountain Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium montanum) flower

Mountain Lady's Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium montanum)

Aliases:  Large Lady's Slipper, White Lady's Slipper

Family:  Orchid (Orchidaceae)

Mountain Lady's Slipper is Yosemite's supernova, ephemeral, rare, and beautiful, producing beacons of white light from shadowy places deep in the woods. Happily for us, though, it's not nearly so wantonly chaotic as an actual exploding star, and seems entirely unbent on the destruction of humanity. Quite the opposite, in fact; much of its rarity is due to the depredations of plant poachers digging it up and smuggling it off to whatever secret labs they keep for conducting unspeakable experiments on innocent greenery. When botanizers carry pepper spray in Yosemite, it's not for those adorable bears, but so that if they should be lucky enough to encounter a Mountain Lady's Slipper, they can spritz passersby to prevent them from seeing it and engaging their plantnapping instincts. You can never be too careful about these things.

Mountain Lady's Slipper likes shady, or at least semi-shady, areas from around 4,000 - 5,000 feet elevation. The plants are typically 1 - 2 feet tall. The twirling purplish-brown bits behind the flower are the sepals, specialized leaves that enfold and protect the rest of the flower during the bud stage. On many plants they're a nondescript shade of green and get obscured by the flower once it blooms, but on Cypripedium montanum they're an essential part of the post-bud scene, like 7‑11 or the munchies.

Blooms:  May - July

Lifespan:  Perennial

Origins:  Native (see distribution maps for California and US/Canada)

Cypripedium montanum etymology:  This translates more or less to "Goddess foot of the mountains." Cypripedium is of ancient Greek origin and means "foot of Aphrodite." It combines the Greek words Kypris, an alternate name for Aphrodite, and pedium, meaning foot. Montanum is a Latin word meaning mountain or mountainous, referring to the plant's habitat.

This Photo:  In the Wawona Meadow area, mid June

Other Resources:   CalFlora  ·  CalPhotos  ·  USDA  ·  U.S. Forest Service  ·  efloras.org

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