On a recent hike in western Montana’s Bitterroot Wilderness I happened upon this lucky find: a pair of dainty Fairy Slipper orchids (Cypripedium species) growing near the lush banks of a rushing stream.
A few fun facts about orchids:
- Some orchids species are thought to be over 120 million years old. That’s very old, and from an Darwinian standpoint it means they are quite highly evolved organisms. Evidence of this is seen in their elaborate shapes, color patterns, and reproductive strategies.
- Orchids are masters of deception. Like other types of flowers, they have evolved to trick insects into pollinating them by displaying shapes and colors like the insects they are hoping to attract.
- There are over 25,000 documented species of orchids. The vanilla plant is actually a type of orchid, cultured in Latin America for its culinary flavor.
Fairy Slippers and other orchids have very specialized reproductive systems and require specific habitat conditions. As humans develop wild forests, so follows the decline of these sensitive wildflowers. If you happen to see these while out hiking, please help to protect them by not picking or collecting them.