Clustered Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium fasciculatum)
We nearly passed up this rare orchid, well camouflaged within inches of the trail. This single plant with a pair of intricate nodding slipper flowers was the prize of a blustery May hike on a flower covered ridge just north of the Columbia Gorge. Its greenish-brown coloration allowed it to blend into the shady evergreen woods, and explains why it’s also called Brownie Lady’s Slipper. The flower seems like an amalgamation of other orchids we’ve found. It has the classic lower pouch or “slipper” of the closely related Mountain Lady Slipper (Cypripedium montanum) — without the spur of the Fairy slipper (C. bulbosa) and some of the Coral roots (Corallorhizais) — combined with the “hat” of shorter pointed petals and sepals found on the Stream orchid (Epipactis gigantea), while being the smallest and most hunched over/drooping of any of these. The latin ‘fasciculatum‘ means bundles or clusters, indicating how the flowers are found two or more to a stem.
C. Fasciculatum is only found in 4 locations, the Eastern Gorge where we found it, extending up into east Cascades in Washington, the northern Idaho panhandle, southern Oregon-northern California, and the Rocky Mountains at the Colorado-Wyoming-Utah juncture. It’s range spans many elevations, with the May bloom of our low elevation sighting occurring much earlier than the June-July peak of alpine settings.
As with many orchids, the flower relies on fungi networks deep below the forest duff for nutrients. These delicate relationships makes them scarce in disturbed areas, so it seems unusual to find one in such proximity to the trail.
The wonders of the forest continue to amaze us after 11 years of wildflower blogging!