Cypripedium arietinum (R. Brown): The “Ram’s Head” Lady Slipper
This gem of an orchid is rare in our area, but is much more common to the west and north. It is found in all New England states save Rhode Island. I have seen nice populations in Maine and Vermont. It is rare in New Hampshire because it favors a limestone habitat, not of common occurance here. It blooms in late May, in association with white cedar, maidenhair fern, broad-leafed sedge and other calciphiles.
Early observers saw it as a charging ram, albeit one of very small proportion. (The flower is about as big as your thumb). They imagined the petals as horns, the pouch-like lip with its distinctive chin as a lowered ram’s head. This seems to me to be an unfortunate comparison, for it is a true beauty with rich, red reticulation on the lip, and the pouch entrance ringed by a fuzzy, ermine-white collar. It has rust-colored sepals and lateral petals, and is crowned by an expressive green bract.
It is an easily overlooked plant, being only 4 to 6 inches tall, hiding among other vegetation. If you want to search it out and photograph it this spring, you will need close-up capabilities, a flash attachment, and a tiny tripod. Also, prepare to crawl around on your belly to focus and line things up. There is not a lot of light where I have seen them.
– John A. Mattor