Delicate and Refined: An Orchid

pink ladys slipperThey are rare, they are fickle, they are picky, they are beautiful, and we have them in our parks. The frustrating thing is, we can’t really tell everybody where they are because, well, folks steal them. Worse yet, when they are transplanted they usually die because they require specific, exacting environmental conditions for survival. Change anything about the soil, water or light and the plant dies. So the theft is pointless, even from the thief’s point of view.

They are pink lady’s slippers, a type of orchid, and if you know what to look for they are a joy to find. The staff at Hidden Oaks Nature Center recently was in contact with a patron over concerns for a group of the flowers growing within sight of a busy park facility. Park staff has been aware of them for more than ten years,

Over those years, we have been counting flowers and checking to see if there has been evidence of collecting or picking. Fortunately, we have not found that the flowers have been disturbed, even though a number of the blooms are in proximity to a very heavily used recreational area. We typically check about three or four times a week during the blooming season.

Staff has discussed the idea of roping off the site with Bob Stevenson, who oversees park maintenance and care of athletic fields in that part of the county, but the feeling is that adding ropes would create more of an attention draw than protection of the area. The main stand of flowers in that area is, fortunately, under trees, back a few feet from open grass. For the last decade, staff purposefully has not trimmed pine trees that stand between the flowers and the frequented facility so as to visually block the area of the pink lady’s slippers. This has discouraged people from sitting or walking in that area. Stevenson also does not want to post any signage, again not wanting to draw attention to the flowers.

We are fascinated by this beautiful flower, and years ago Hidden Oaks had the opportunity to host one of the plant’s leading researchers, Dr. Douglas Gill from the University of Maryland. He noted that a patch of lady’s slippers in Annandale Community Park was diminishing due to the natural succession of the surrounding forest, which was in transition from evergreen to deciduous. For the last six years or so, we have not found a bloom in that park.

According to Dr. Gill, the pink lady’s slippers are unusual in that the plant can go dormant for up to, and possibly more than, 20 years. The amount of light, ability of the seed to connect with the proper rhizomes, plus other growing conditions will affect the number of blooms we see each year. Unlike many other plants, a healthy stand may not increase in number each year even in the best conditions. Orchids have a surprisingly challenging process to go from pollination to a new bloom. In the best case scenario, a pollinated seed may take six to ten years to even produce leaves. Hopefully, the reduced number of blooms we have noticed at another particular park is due to many of the plants going dormant and they will bloom again.

Protecting our natural resources is one responsibility of the Park Authority. Another is connecting people to nature. This situation would appear to create a conflict in those goals, but there is a way to see these beauties. Hidden Oaks has led pink lady’s slippers walks around Mother’s Day at one park annually since 2007, and even before that at Annandale Community Park.

This year, Hidden Oaks will hold a pink lady’s slipper walk on Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. Details are on our website. We welcome you to learn more about this glorious orchid.



Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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