The Lady’s Slipper
“In 1917, the lady’s slipper orchid was officially declared extinct. The mania for orchid-collecting during Victorian times, it seemed, had simply been too much for it. But then, in 1930, on a hillside in Yorkshire, a wandering botanist stumbled upon (not literally, one hopes) a solitary specimen of this strange and glorious flower. Since then, the lady’s slipper orchid has held the dubious – and dangerous – distinction of being Britain’s rarest flower.” The Guardian
When I was out walking one summer I came across this beautiful orchid. It is so rare that it was being guarded night and day by a volunteer from English Nature, and was being propagated in secrecy by botanists at Kew, who were attempting to clone the original plant. My enquiries into the fascinating history of this rare plant inspired the novel. More information about the orchid conservation programme can be found through Kew Gardens
Few people realise how long it takes a book to reach the shelves after it has been accepted for publication. Since I wrote The Lady’s Slipper in 2007 I am delighted to report that the Species Recovery Programme has now been able to reintroduce the lady’s slipper orchid back to the wild. A few years ago it was still being guarded by the police. Last year some specimens flowered in Gaitbarrows Nature Reserve near my home, and this year they can be seen flowering on an Open weekend run by English Nature. More about the orchid’s battle for survival here.
Left, a picture I took of a lady’s slipper in its natural limestone habitat. This specimen is one of the first to be reintroduced to the wild by the staff of English Nature. All have been planted out by women, a lovely gesture in honour of its name. The plants are protected from slugs by copper collars and a liberal sprinkling of pellets. Slugs are more of a threat to its survival these days than greedy botanists!