Yellow Lady’s Slipper
This June the Yellow Lady’s Slippers were profusely decorating the woodlands of Door County. Considering how picky and complicated their life cycle is, it’s almost amazing they grow at all.
All Lady’s Slippers grow in acidic soil which must have a certain underground fungus. The seeds of these plants are about the size of a dust speck and have absolutely no nutrients. Their “fungus buddy” attacks and eats the outer coating of the tiny seeds and allow the inner cells to absorb nutrients from the fungus and then germinate. This process can take several years. After the slipper finally germinates, it can take up to 15 years for the plant to mature enough to flower.
And it doesn’t get any easier after it flowers. Its pollination is equally complicated, requiring a bee to enter the pouchy flower. Once inside, the bee will often get trapped and either dies or has to chew its way out. The bees that manage to escape this demanding mistress then carry pollen to other blossoms, but even after all this trouble, only a small percentage are actually pollinated.
Guessing the only reason these ladies survive is due to their long lives – each plant can live for 100 years, providing they are not lunch for one of the many Door County deer. Once a flower actually is pollinated it is very prolific though, and can produce more than 60,000 seeds.