Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Fairy Slipper Orchid photo: Thomas Meyer

Fairy Slipper at Town Corner Cedars State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

June 2013

Wisconsin, naturally

Town Corner Cedars State Natural Area

Notable: Encountering a fairy slipper is truly an occasion for celebration! This delicate orchid of the north stirs emotion in those who search for and find it given its rarity and singular beauty. Standing just a few inches high, with but a single basal leaf and a tiny solitary flower, the fairy slipper is a challenge to locate in its dark, mossy, cedar swamp habitat. The flower boasts bright magenta sepals and petals, one of which is modified into a striped and spotted slipper-shaped pouch similar to that of the larger and more common pink moccasin flower. Vivid yellow hairs that mimic pollen bearing anthers stand at the entrance to the pouch. These hairs, false nectar spurs within the pouch, and a vanilla-like fragrance, lure bumblebees into the flower with the promise of reward. Though no prize is had by the bee, the flower gets pollinated in this evolutionary game of deception. (The white spots on the flower in this photograph is tree pollen). Also known as the calypso orchid (Calypsobulbosa), it’s listed as a state-threatened species by the DNR. Among the goals of the department’s State Natural Areas Program is to protect habitat for Wisconsin’s rare flora. More than 90% of our 129 endangered and threatened plant species find safe harbor in Wisconsin’s system of 668 nature preserves. Look for this sparkling gem of the plant kingdom from late May to early June in the drier duff near the bases of old white cedar trees at SNAs like Town Corner Cedars and other cedar swamps.

How to get there: From the north side of Amberg (Marinette County), go west on Dow Dam Road 3.4 miles, then north on Smiley Road 2.5 miles, then north on Rock Road 1.1 miles, then east on Town Corner Lake Road 0.6 mile and park along the roadside. Walk south into the site. Visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Town Corner Cedars” for a map and more information.