When you think of a lady slipper, you probably picture the native pink Cypripedium growing throughout the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. However, the lady slipper is a type of orchid that grows naturally on nearly every continent in the world! Orchids come in many shapes and sizes but the paphiopedilum (also called paph), is a special addition to any household or orchid collection. They come in a wide range of color combinations. That, combined with their distinctive pouched lip, brings drama to any kind of orchid or tropical arrangement. Like the typical phalaenopsis, lady slippers have become one of the most popular ways to bring natural beauty into the home.
You may ask: what makes a lady slipper so unique? Lady slippers are a sympodial terrestrial orchid, meaning they grow on the ground and have multiple growing points. Lady slippers grow horizontally as opposed to the phalaenopsis orchid; growing monopodial and from a single stem and increasing in height as it ages. A lady slipper’s terrestrial roots are short, thick, and spongy and their leaves are thin, strappy, and often dappled, making them very attractive even when the plants are not in bloom. In general, solid green-leaved paphs prefer cooler temperatures and mottled-leaved paphs prefer warmer ones, but both are adaptable. They can withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees and as high as 90 degrees.
Lady slippers are perfect for a person that tends to over water as they lack pseudobulbs (like an oncidium) and have short root systems; they need to be watered twice per week. As with most orchids, avoid watering at the center of the plant which can cause crown rot. This being said, they do prefer to dry out a little in between waterings. Repot every year after blooming and pot in a fine-grain bark mixture that allows good drainage. Paphs prefer growing in the shade or medium light and do great in an east or west facing window. Morning sun is the best.
Fertilize on a regular schedule, with a 20-20-20 fertilizer during the winter, and a high nitrogen fertilizer during the warmer months while it is growing. Many paphiopedilums can produce several flowers over the course of a few months so wait until the blooming spike turns brown before cutting it off. The weight of the bloom can end the stalk so be sure to stake it for extra support. Once the bloom is opened, cooler temperatures around 65 degrees can help prolong the bloom. Usually the blooms should last for two months.
While some may argue that lady slippers tend to be a bit temperamental to take care of, with the right light, water, and fertilizer they are an easy tropical orchid for anyone to grow. Their colors are striking and the foliage is a decoration all in itself. Be forewarned, after bringing one home, you may find yourself wanting several more!