As a teenager, I enjoyed long walks in the woods in the springtime, looking at the wild flowers, birds and trees. The violets, trilliums, may apples and jack-in-the-pulpits filled me with wonder at their uniqueness and beauty. Spring was an opening to a new world each year.
I found different colors of violets, pink, white and various shades of purple; May apples, Podophyllum peltatum, that I learned to look for the twin, wide, 5-lobed, hand-shaped leaves that covered like an umbrella the fragrant white or pink apple blossom-like bloom that flourished and died by the late spring; and the sweet delicate trilliums of pink, white or red, three-petal bract blooms that dance in the wind like fairies. It is not good to pick them because the brachts are necessary for nourishing the plant for the next year.
The trillium is the state wildflower for Ohio (found in 88 of its counties) and is often called the Trinity Lily, symbolic of the Holy Trinity; the jack-in-the-pulpits, (Arisaema triphyllum) or Indian turnip, is a fascinating perennial herbaceous plant that has two sets of triple leaves under which appeared a green or brown-hooded cone with an upright spadix covered with minute powdery male and female flowers, named, jack-in-the-pulpit because it looked like the old-fashioned balcony pulpits. A wondrous sight to see. One might even bend down to hear the sermon of the day.
Last weekend I was at "La Florida," The Garden Council's Flower Show. There are two divisions in a show - horticulture and design. The horticulture tables and walls were covered to the floor with Spanish moss. The staging was spellbinding.
I was carried back to my spring memories of the jack-in-the- pulpit by the Horticulture Award winner. Someone entered a terrestrial lady slipper orchid that caught the attention of everyone there. It won a blue ribbon and green rosette Grower's Choice ribbon for the best of its grouping. Then it won the Horticulture Award of Excellence for all the horticulture at the show. When the popular votes from the attendees were counted, it won the Visitors Award. It so resembles the jack-in-the-pulpit I was remembering, and as many other attendees also remembered.
We were all wondering how this exquisite plant was raised, because very few people can raise it. Summertime seems to kills it here, even though it is a cold tender plant and needs our warm weather.
The genus, Paphiopedilum, named from the temple, Paphos, on the island of Cyprus and the Greek pedilon, meaning a slipper. Lady slippers have a pouch shaped lip that resembles an old-fashioned slipper a lady would slide onto her feet. The purpose of this pouch lip is to catch insects that climb back up the stamen, disturbing the pollen and pollinating the bloom as they climb out. The plant is not carnivorous.
My information calls them some of the easiest orchids to grow, great for beginners. The clincher is, that their blooms last a long time, many weeks.
Some lady slippers are not demanding when it comes to light, being adaptable, they grow on bright window sills or under lights, like African violets. The humidity of a bathroom window suits them well, although they don't require humidity. If the leaves start to rot, they have been watered too much. They like daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees and night times of 55 to 60 degrees. You can't force them to bloom if they are not mature or it's not their normal time of year to bloom. If you can drop the temperature down 20 degrees cooler at night, or cooler than their daytime temperatures, it should help set up for buds. After 6 to 8 weeks with no buds forming, take them back to previous temperatures and let them get a little drier than usual for 6 to 8 weeks.
If you want to try the great outdoors, consider the sunlight requirements and look for a site that receives three hours of bright, indirect sunlight and shaded from the hot afternoon sun. (Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in our noonday sun!) Amend your soil with 5 inches of equal parts redwood bark, sphagnum peat moss, cork, volcanic rock and charcoal over the surface of the soil to improve aeration and drainage. Dig your hole as deep as the pot your orchid came in, but 2 to 3 inches wider than the pot. Take out the plant and tease the bottom roots out and spread them evenly in the bottom of the hole. Return the amended soil and form it around the base of your orchid. Irrigate the newly planted orchid with one cup of lukewarm water to help settle the soil and encourage your plant to take root. Avoid poorly drained soils. Fertilize with liquid fertilizer rich with nitrogen monthly, alternating with high phosphate/potash( called bloom booster) for 5-6 weeks in summer to initiate buds.
They need very little pruning, but when you do, sterilize your scissors with isopropyl alcohol before and after every cut. Prune dead leaves at the base once all the healthy green leaves are brown. Prune orchid stems after blooming, back to its growth point, or bud if there is one.
The best months for pruning are October and November, but don't be too quick cutting yellow leaves, it may just be a sign it is getting too much sunlight. Move it more into the shade until the green returns.
Good luck! (Superstition says, don't say that!)
Today is the fifth annual "March in the Park"time, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Jaycee Park at the end of Beach Parkway. It's the big money raiser for the Garden Club of Cape Coral, with local vendors, plant and garden art, raffles, food and FREE workshops.
See you there and please thank a tree for our H2O!
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener; hibiscus enthusiast; board member LC/FM Garden Council; and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.