One of the pleasures of residing in or near the woods of the Southern Appalachians is looking forward to the bloom of specific woodland plants as the year rolls by. Last year we missed the bloom of the small yellow lady’s slipper, a small group of which blooms next to one of the trails at the Deep Creek entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s not right at the trailhead, in case you’re wondering. You have to walk a ways to get to them. This year, we managed to see and photograph them for the wildflower hiking guide Jim is working on.
The blooms on these delicate wild orchids are so small they are easily missed unless you’re looking for them. They are a miniature version of the large yellow lady’s slipper, but slightly more colorful. The name comes from the shape of the flower, which is shoe or bootie-shaped, and has twisted upper petals or sepals that look like ribbons that could be used to secure such slippers. They are a northern species growing here in the Southern mountains.
Several interesting facts are noted in one of the field guides on our shelf, Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians. This species rarely survives transplantation, so anyone finding these plants anywhere in the wild should leave them undisturbed in their natural habitat. Insects looking for nectar enter the plant through the “slipper” pouch and find none; they can escape only by squeezing through one of two small openings in the back of the pouch. When it exits, it leaves covered in pollen.