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Cypripedium Calceolus - Hardy Perennial

Author: John Wood

Cypripedium Calceolus - Hardy Perennials and Old Fashioned Flowers

Cypripedium Calceolus Described.

Cypripedium Calceolus - English Lady's Slipper; Nat. Ord. Orchidaceæ.

This well-known terrestrial orchid is a rare British plant, very beautiful, and much admired, so much so, indeed, that many desire to grow it. It happens, however, that it seldom thrives under cultural treatment, and seems to prefer a home of its own selection, but its habitats are said now to be very few in Great Britain, it having been hunted out and grubbed up everywhere. Fortunately, it can be grown in gardens, and in good form, though rarely seen thus. To see well-grown flowers of this orchid either makes us feel more contented with our own climate or strongly reminds us of others where the most gorgeous varieties of flowers and fruit grow wild. It is large and striking, fragrant, and very beautiful; no one can see it, especially in a growing state, without being charmed by its freshness and simplicity; it also forms one of the finest specimens for the student in botany, and in every way it is a plant and flower of the highest merit. It should be in all collections of choice plants, and every amateur should persevere until he succeeds in establishing it.

Under cultivation it flowers in early May, at a height of 9in. to 12in.; the flowers are composed of a calyx of three brownish-purple sepals, which have only the appearance of two, from the fact of the lower two being joined or grown together, and even so combined they are somewhat less than the upper sepal. The division may be observed at the tips, though in some specimens it is microscopic—in the one now by me it is hardly the eighth of an inch. Two petals; these are cross-form in relation to the sepals, of the same colour, and a little longer—about 2in.—narrow, drooping, pointed, and slightly twisted when a few days old; lip, "blown out like a slipper," shorter than the sepals, compressed, richly veined, and lemon yellow. The seed organs are curious, the stigma being foot-stalked, peltate, and placed between and above the anthers. The leaves are pale green, very hairy, many-ribbed, stem-clasping, alternate, ovate, and slightly wavy; the lower ones are 5in. or 6in. long and 2in. to 3in. wide, and pointed. The root is creeping, the fibres stout, long, wiry, and bent. During spring the plant makes rapid growth, and seldom bears more than one flower; for the first time a plant produced two with me in 1882. They are sweetly scented, like the primrose.

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Cypripedium Calceolus

Many amateurs, who have otherwise proved their knowledge of the requirements of plants by growing large and choice collections, have failed to establish this after many trials; and were it not for the fact that with me it is growing in various positions and under different modes of treatment, and that it has so grown for several years, I think I should not have ventured to give hints to experienced horticulturists. In my opinion, four conditions are strictly necessary in order to establish this native orchid in our garden: (1) A strong specimen with a goodly portion of the rhizoma attached; (2) Firm or solid planting during autumn; (3) Moist situation; (4) Shade from the mid-day sun. Further information may be best given by stating the modus operandi: Several years ago a number of good roots were planted in sandy loam of a calcareous nature. They were put in somewhat deeply, the roots carefully spread out, and the soil made solid by repeated waterings, the position being shaded by an apple tree. They are now well established, and only receive a top dressing of leaves and manure to keep them cool and moist in summer. At the same time a number were potted deeply in loam, peat, and broken oyster shells; when filling in the compost, it, too, was washed to the roots, so as to make all solid by frequent applications; the pots have always been kept in cool and shady quarters, and plunged; they bloom well every season. I have likewise found another plan to answer well. In a moist corner make up a low-lying bed of sand and peat, mostly sand, plant 9in. deep, and make all solid, as before, by water. When the growths appear on the surface, water with weak liquid manure, and if shade does not exist from the mid-day sun, some should be provided; in this way I am now growing my finest specimens; but if once the roots become dry, the plants will suffer a serious check. I feel equally confident that the roots enjoy a firm bed, but it should be of such material that they can freely run in it.

Flowering period, May and June.

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