Getting out of the city presents some thrilling opportunities to see amazing plants that grow in the Midwest’s relatively unfrequented woodlands and swamps. One such is the yellow lady’s slipper orchid, a showy native perennial which I saw recently for the first time.
The inflated, balloonlike petal that gives the plant its name nests at the center of several other slender, twisting, greenish-yellow petals and sepals that are streaked with purple. Though this plant has been known to these parts for hundreds of years, its status is no longer secure. The plants should never be picked or disturbed. They rely on very particular conditions to flourish and reproduce.
According Stan Tekiela, author of Wildflowers of Michigan,
Orchids are highly specialized plants needing their own special fungus growing on their roots to survive. This is why they . . . should be enjoyed in the wild only. Orchid seeds are like specks of dust; they consist only of an embryo (no stored food). They depend on being invaded by a fungal hyphae to infuse the seeds with nutrients. This process takes several years before any roots or shoots develop. All orchids are protected by conservation laws in Michigan.
The genus name Cypripedium means literally “the foot of Venus,” which I think is an apt name for a glorious flower.
The old conservatory in Lincoln Park is the ideal resort on a dull winter day. There, life, light, and the obscene fecundity that troubled Werner Herzog crowd out any suggestion of snow or the long seasonal sleep. Here we enjoy a wonderfully domesticated display of the exotic, inside a structure designed to coax nature into a pleasing vision of health and stasis.
I worry about the condition of this old greenhouse. Its ribs, columns, and gears are well into their second century. Will the bundles of money needed to keep it going materialize? This is one of the few major cultural institutions in Chicago where admission is still free.
While I love the Palm Room, with its soaring ceiling and banana trees, the Fern Room, with its layers upon layers of varying life forms, is my hands-down favorite. Even its rocks seem to be alive.
My mother would love seeing the orchid room, with its cascading flowers and colorful koi pond. The begonia blooming profusely in the center of it is a type that she grows. The staff is busily preparing for the big Spring Flower Show that greets every Easter.
If you are a venture capitalist or otherwise blessed with bundles of money, please consider endowing the Lincoln Park Conservatory. The old column you see here on the right will eventually give way. The greenhouse is an energy-saving experiment just begging to be made!
Click images to enlarge.