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Showy lady's slipper
(Cypripedium reginae)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Cypripedioideae
Genus: Cypripedium
L., 1753
Type species
Cypripedium calceolus
L., 1753
Cypripedium, trapping a bee so it goes through a narrow passage where it picks up the pollinia to perform pollination.

Cypripedium is a genus of 58 species and nothospecies of hardy orchids; it is one of five genera that together compose the subfamily of lady's slipper orchids (Cypripedioideae). They are widespread across much of the Northern Hemisphere, including most of Europe and Africa (Algeria[2]) (one species), Russia, China, Central Asia, Canada the United States, Mexico, and Central America.[1][3][4][5] They are most commonly known as slipper orchids, lady's slipper orchids, or ladyslippers; other common names include moccasin flower, camel's foot, squirrel foot, steeple cap, Venus' shoes, and whippoorwill shoe. An abbreviation used in trade journals is "Cyp." The genus name is derived from Ancient Greek Κύπρις (Kúpris), an early reference in Greek myth to Aphrodite, and πέδιλον (pédilon), meaning "sandal".[6]

Most of Cypripedium grow in temperate and subtropical climates, but some species grow in the tundra in Alaska and Siberia, which is an unusually cold habitat for orchids. Other species occur well into tropical areas such as Honduras and Myanmar.[1]

Some of the northern species can withstand extreme cold, growing under the snow and blooming when the snow melts. But, in the wild, some have become rare and close to extinction, due to an ever shrinking natural habitat and over-collection, people prizing the flowers for their beauty. Several species are legally protected in some regions. In the late 20th century, only a single known plant of Cypripedium calceolus survived in Britain.


The Cypripedium are terrestrial and, as with most terrestrial orchids, the rhizome is short and robust, growing in the uppermost soil layer. The rhizome grows annually with a growth bud at one end and dies off at the other end. The stem grows from the bud at the tip of the rhizome. Most slipper orchids have an elongate erect stem, with leaves growing along its length. But the mocassin flower or pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule) has a short underground stem with leaves springing from the soil. The often hairy leaves can vary from ovate to elliptic or lanceolate, folded (plicate) along their length. The stems lack pseudobulbs.

The inflorescence is racemose. It can carry one to twelve flowers, as in Cypripedium californicum. But most species have one to three flowers. There are three sepals, with, in most species, the two lateral ones more or less fused. The flower has three acute petals with the third a striking slipper-shaped lip, which is lowermost. The sepals and the petals are usually similarly colored, with the lip in a different color. But variations on this theme occur. The aspect of the lip of different species can vary a great deal. As with all orchids, it is specially constructed to attract pollinators, which it traps temporarily. The flowers show a column with a unique shield-like staminode. The ovary is 3-locular (with three chambers).


Comparison between a DNA-analysis and the morphological characteristics in this genus has shown that there is a high degree of divergence between the two, probably due to long periods of isolation or extinction of intermediate forms. The Eurasian species with yellow or red flowers form a distinct group from the North American species with yellow flowers. The Mexican Pelican Orchid (Cypripedium irapeanum) and the California lady's slipper (Cypripedium californicum) are probably the first diverging line. They share several similarities with their sister group Selenipedium.

Species and natural hybrids[edit]

There are 58 currently recognized species and nothospecies (naturally occurring hybrids) recognized in this genus, as of May 2014:[1]

Subgenus Cypripedium[edit]

Section Image Name Distribution
Acaulia Cypripedium acaule – Mocassin flower, Pink lady's slipper, Two-leaved lady's slipper C. and E. Canada, NC & E USA
Arietinum Cypripedium arietinum – Ram's-head lady's slipper C & E Canada, NC & NE USA
Cypripedium plectrochilum N Myanmar to SC China
Bifolia Cypripedium guttatum – Spotted lady's slipper European Russia to Korea, Alaska to Yukon
Cypripedium yatabeanum Russian Far East to N & NC Japan, Aleutian Islands to SW Alaska
Cypripedium Cypripedium calceolus – Yellow lady's slipper Europe to Japan
Cypripedium candidum – Small white lady slipper SE Canada, NC & E USA
Cypripedium cordigerum – Heart-Lip lady's slipper N Pakistan to Himalaya, S Tibet
Cypripedium farreri China
Cypripedium fasciolatum China
Cypripedium henryi – Henry's lady's slipper C China
Cypripedium kentuckiense – Kentucky lady's slipper, Southern lady's slipper C & E USA
Cypripedium montanum – Large lady's slipper, Mountain lady's slipper, White lady's slipper, Moccasin flower Alaska to California
Cypripedium parviflorum Salisb. – (Greater) yellow lady's slipper, moccasin flower, or hairy yellow ladyslipper Canada, E USA
Cypripedium segawai EC Taiwan
Cypripedium shanxiense China to N Japan
Eniantopedilum Cypripedium fasciculatum – Brownie lady's slipper, Clustered lady's slipper W USA
Flabellinervia Cypripedium japonicum – Japan lady's slipper China, Korea, Japan
Cypripedium formosanum – Formosa lady's slipper C Taiwan
Macrantha Cypripedium calcicolum China
Cypripedium franchetii – Franchet's lady's slipper C & SC China
Cypripedium himalaicum SE Tibet to Himalaya
Cypripedium ludlowii SE Tibet
Cypripedium macranthos – Large-flowered lady's slipper E Belarus to temperate E Asia
Cypripedium taibaiense China
Cypripedium tibeticum Sikkim to C China
Cypripedium yunnanense SE Tibet, China
Retinervia Cypripedium elegans E Nepal to China
Cypripedium debile – Frail lady's slipper Japan, Taiwan, China
Cypripedium palangshanense China
Sinopedilum Cypripedium bardolphianum China
Cypripedium forrestii China
Cypripedium micranthum China
Trigonopedia Cypripedium daweishanense (S.C.Chen & Z.J.Liu) S.C.Chen & Z.J.Liu (2005) Yunnan, China South-Central
Cypripedium fargesii China
Cypripedium lentiginosum China
Cypripedium lichiangense S.C.Chen & P.J.Cribb China (SW Sichuan, NW Yunnan), NE Myanmar
Cypripedium malipoense S.C.Chen & Z.J.Liu Yunnan, China South-Central
Cypripedium margaritaceum – Pearl-white lady's slipper China
Cypripedium sichuanense China
Cypripedium wumengense China

Subgenus Irapeana[edit]

Section Image Name Distribution
Irapeana Cypripedium californicum – California lady's slipper Oregon, N. California
Cypripedium molle Mexico
Cypripedium dickinsonianum Mexico (S Chiapas) to Guatemala
Cypripedium irapeanum – Pelican Orchid, Irapeao lady's slipper Mexico to Honduras
Obtusipetala Cypripedium flavum – Yellow lady's slipper SE Tibet, SC China
Cypripedium passerinum – Franklyn's lady's slipper, small white Northern lady's slipper, sparrow's egg lady's slipper Alaska to Canada, Montana
Cypripedium reginae Walter – Large white lady's slipper, Queen's lady's slipper, showy lady's slipper C & E Canada, E. USA
Subtropica Cypripedium subtropicum SE. Tibet
Cypripedium wardii SE. Tibet, China

Natural Hybrids[edit]

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Cypripedium × alaskanum C. guttatum × C. yatabeanum Alaska
Cypripedium × andrewsii C. candidum × C. parviflorum var. pubescens E Canada, NC & NE USA
Cypripedium × catherinae C. macranthon × C. shanxiense Russian Far East
Cypripedium × columbianum C. montanum × C. parviflorum var. pubescens W Canada, NW USA
Cypripedium x herae C.parviflorum x C.reginae Manitoba, Canada
Cypripedium × ventricosum C. calceolus × C. macranthos Russia to Korea
Cypripedium × wenqingiae C. farreri × C. tibeticum China


The genus has a long history of use, dating back 2,500 years to the Far East, where they were used medicinally.


Several orchid species thought to be extinct in the United Kingdom including one native species in this genus have been found in habitat and are currently the subject of aggressive conservation efforts to protect and restore these showy plants to their native ranges.[7]


The following have received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-

  • Cypripedium formosanum[8]
  • Cypripedium Hank Small gx[9]
  • Cypripedium Michael gx[10]
  • Cypripedium reginae[11]
  • Cypripedium Sabine gx[12]


  • Phillip Cribb & Peter Green (1997). The Genus Cypripedium (a botanical monograph). Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Timber Press ISBN 0-88192-403-2
  • Pridgeon, A.M.; Cribb, P.J.; Chase, M.W. & F. N. Rasmussen (1999): Genera Orchidacearum Vol.1, page: 114 ff., Oxford U. Press. ISBN 0-19-850513-2
  1. ^ a b c d "Cypripedium". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  2. ^ Walid, Nemer & Rebbas, Khellaf & Krouchi, Faiza. (2019). Découverte de Cypripedium calceolus (Orchidaceae) au Djurdjura (Algérie), nouvelle pour l’Afrique du Nord. Flora Mediterranea. 29. 207-214. 10.7320/FlMedit29.207.
  3. ^ "Cypripedium calceolus". Altervista Flora Italiana.
  4. ^ Chen, Xinqi; Cribb, Phillip J. "Cypripedium". Flora of China – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  5. ^ Sheviak, Charles J. (2002). "Cypripedium". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 26. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. ^ "Meet The Ladies: The Slipper Orchids". USDA Forest Service. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  7. ^ Jowit, Juliette (3 August 2010). "Ghost orchid comes back from extinction". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Cypripedium formosanum". RHS. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Cypripedium Hank Small gx". RHS. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  10. ^ "Cypripedium Michael gx". RHS. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  11. ^ "Cypripedium reginae". RHS. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Cypripedium Sabine gx". RHS. Retrieved 5 May 2020.

External links[edit]