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Biology

In autumn, generally around September, the single, dark green leaf of the fairy slipper orchid sprouts from the corm (2) (4) (7). This leaf lasts through winter, even surviving under snow in the cold parts of its range (2) (4). With the arrival of spring, the orchid flowers. In Europe, this may be as soon as the snow melts (5), while in parts of North America it is said to occur in May and June (2) (7), and the flower is able to withstand any late frosts that may occur. Shortly after the flower blooms, the leaf fades for the summer (4). The flower of the fairy slipper orchid possesses no nectar and instead attracts its pollinators by deception (5). The scent and shape of the flower mimics those that do have nectar, which lures bumble bees (Bombus species) to the bloom (5). The bees land on the lip of the flower and enter the pouch in search of food. Failing to find any, the bee exits the pouch, rubbing against the column overhanging the pouch opening as it does so. Pollen is deposited on the bee and is then transferred to the next flower it visits (4). Following pollination, the fairy slipper orchid flower fades rapidly (2). By late summer, the capsule has ripened and the seeds are dispersed. The leaf withers and the plant becomes dormant until September, when a new leaf will be produced and the cycle will commence again (7).

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Source: ARKive

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