As Nature Saskatchewan’s Rare Plant Rescue (RPR) program gets ready for another season, their crew is once again on the hunt for one of the province’s most elusive plants.
According to the organization, the Small White Lady’s-slipper is likely one of the rarest plants in the province, with a provincial status of “possibly extirpated”, meaning provincially extinct. Within Canada, this species is listed as Endangered and can still be found in small pockets throughout Manitoba and Ontario.
For the second year, the RPR program will be assisting the Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre in their surveys to hopefully locate this rare orchid in the province. They look to the assistance of Saskatchewan residents to help them do so by reporting any sightings.
"These surveys are a bit of a treasure hunt," explains Ashley Vass, Program Coordinator for RPR, "not only is this species considered extremely rare within Canada, but in Saskatchewan the last time it was seen was in 1895 - over a century ago. We are following clues such as ‘near a spring by Indian Head’ to relocate the species.”
On the Canadian prairies, this small perennial orchid averages around 15 cm tall. Flowering from May to June, the Small White Lady’s-slipper relies on insects for pollination, with its flower shape facilitating cross-pollination. A few leaves sheath a single stem, and its single flower has a small modified petal pouch resembling a slipper. The pouch is about 2-3 cm long and is white with occasional purple veining or speckling. A more common orchid, Yellow Lady’s-slipper, has a yellow flower with a similar shape and will readily hybridize with this species to produce a cream coloured slipper. The Yellow Lady’s-slipper and the hybrid can be distinguished from the Small White Lady’s-slipper by their colour and larger size.
Suitable habitat for Small White Lady’s-slipper includes remnant moist native prairie, prairie sedge fens, and openings in woodlands. As this type of habitat has been greatly reduced in Canada over the past century, Small White Lady’s-slipper often grows in conjunction with other rare or at-risk species and its presence is an indicator of intact native prairie health.
To report a sighting of a rare species, if you think you may have suitable habitat, or if you are interested in more information on Rare Plant Rescue and its other target species, call Nature Saskatchewan at 1-800-667-4668, email [email protected], or visit their website.