California Lady’s Slipper

Leonard and I were delighted to discover a second interesting wildflower along the Stony Creek Trail in the Six Rivers National Recreation Area (Del Norte County CA). A native perennial, California lady’s slipper (Cypripedium californicum) belongs to the Orchid Family. It is found along the wet margins of woodlands, streams and wet rocky hillsides below 5,000 feet in the Coast Ranges of California from San Francisco to SW Oregon, most often on serpentine substrates. Because of its limited distribution and the fact that its habitat is prone to logging and mining, California lady’s slipper is considered “vulnerable”.

Arising from short rootstalks and fibrous roots, California lady’s slipper grows in large clumps, often near the rare California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica), as we found them. The plant is puberulent (dusted with a fine powder throughout). The stem can grow over 2 feet tall with alternate, clasping, elliptic to lanceolate leaves. Upward the leaves are reduced to leafy bracts.

The beautiful California lady’s slipper flowers are solitary and occur in the axils of the upper leaf bracts. The three sepals are short, ovate and yellowish green to brown. Two of the white or pinkish petals are lateral and the third is inflated into a pouch shape. This sac-like lip petal may be spotted brown. The ovary is inferior.

The fruit of California lady’s slipper is an oblong capsule (a dry fruit) containing numerous, minute seeds.

Carpenter bees pollinate California lady’s slipper flowers.

Cypripedium, the genus to which California lady’s slipper belongs,¬† derives from “kypris” the Greek name for Aphrodite, a goddess of beauty. “Pedilon” means slipper in Greek and refers to the flower lip petal. Thus the genus is “beautiful slipper”.


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