What is Phragmipedium?

S. Williams

Phragmipedium is the genus for the flower called a lady's slipper orchid. The Phragmipedium produces flowers with petals that vary in color from green to bright orange. Only a few leaves grow on the tall, thin stem. The lower portion of the flower looks like a delicate slipper, and the three larger petals rise either from the rear of the shoe like a bow or droop like shoestrings.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

This flower belongs to the tribe Phragmipedieae and sub-tribe Phragmipediinae. The word "Phragmipedium" is created by combining the Greek words for division, phragma, and slipper, pedium. Its native habitat ranges from Mexico to central South America. These types of plants can be found growing in rock outcroppings, volcanic clay or tree forks. Some can even live underwater for a period of time if the area becomes submerged from heavy rainfall.

Although the most productive blooming period for the Phragmipedium is spring, it often produces blooms in a continuous sequence for six to 11 months out of the year. New flowers typically begin to fall from the plant in about a week, but the flower spike should not be removed. A new bloom will grow from this same area if it is allowed to remain on the plant. For potted Phragmipedium, cool night temperatures and clean water are required to promote blooms.

The lady's slipper orchid is considered by growers to be one of the easier orchids to grow at home. It is a fast grower and tolerant of imperfect growing conditions when compared to other orchid types. It will produce better blooms when cultivated in brighter sunlight, but it can survive in deep shade. Dimmer lighting conditions will produce a stemmy plant with duller blooms. Artificial lighting works well as a supplement to natural sunlight.

A lady's slipper orchid will tolerate heat well but can quickly burn at high temperatures. Good air movement can help protect a plant by cooling the leaves, and potted plants can be moved to shadier areas during the hottest part of the day. Flower pots can quickly heat up and bake the orchid's roots. A good practice is to plant the orchid in one pot and place it inside a larger clay pot that will keep the soil cooler.

Controversy surrounds the exact number of orchid species that belong to the Phragmipedium genus. One well-known expert, Olaf Gruss, has recognized 20 species, but another expert, Lucille M. Cook, has allowed for 15 species. In addition to the naturally occurring orchids, many growers have created their own hybrids to add to the mix.

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