LatViaNature experts have discovered an important new location of the lady’s slipper in Latvia

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In the summer of 2023 in Vidzeme Region, LIFE-IP LatViaNature project experts discovered probably the largest location of the lady’s slipper Cypripedium calceolus in Latvia by counting around 3,000 specimens spread over a total area of at least 64 ha.

Almost the entire area of the newly discovered location is outside specially protected natural areas and micro-reserves. The species was found in the area already in 2011, however, the recent findings significantly change the initial viewpoints on the distribution of the species at the site.

The experts estimate that the number of specimens at the site, counting plant stems, reaches at least two thousand – however, this is a conservative forecast. Plants are not easy to see in the forests rich in perennials, especially after flowering, thus the experts guess that the real number of lady’s slippers is higher – up to 2,500-3,000 specimens. This changes the perception of the total size of the population of the species in Latvia, currently estimated at 4,500-5,000 specimens. Although the new location is a significant addition to the knowledge on the total population of the slipper, it does not reduce the need to protect the species – it is still rare, fragile and endangered.

Leaves of non-blooming and bloomed lady’s slippers are not always easy spotted without a “trained eye” in the second half of summer. Photo: A.Priede

The lady’s slipper is a species, whose locations are not disclosed. Thus, this location also will not be disclosed to protect the rarity from potential “orchid hunters”. The manager of the state forests has been informed and the creation of a new Natura 2000 site will be initiated to ensure adequate protection and maintenance of the location. The project experts hope that it will also help to protect the forest habitats of European Union importance found in the area, as well as habitats of several other important specially protected species discovered during the research of this year.

The lady’s slipper is one of the most impressive wild orchids in Latvia, the largest and most magnificent. It is characterized by broad, large leaves, reddish-brown outer sepals and a yellow lip resembling a slipper. It blooms from late May to mid-June. The species is endangered and protected throughout the European Union, also in Latvia. It is included in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive along with the species requiring creation of protected nature areas for conservation.

A blooming lady’s slipper. Photo: A.Priede

In Latvia, the lady’s slipper could be found in fertile, moderately wet and wet broad-leaved, spruce and mixed forests, most often on calcareous soils. Species’ demands on the environment are not fully explored. However, it is clear that mycorrhiza (a symbiotic association between fungi and plant roots in the soil, which ensures the ability of the rare plant to absorb the necessary nutrients) plays a decisive role in the germination of its seeds. Soil properties, light conditions, competition with other plants also play an important role. In Latvia, almost all locations of the species are found in undisturbed natural forests. Therefore, it can be assumed that slightly altered forests have optimal conditions for the species.

The LatViaNature project experts are surprised by the scale of the new location. Lady’s slippers are scattered in a wide zone, which is located on a slightly pronounced slope in a groundwater discharge zone. This allows to assume that such conditions are important for spreading and survival of the species, and, at the same time, they probably limit the occurrence of the species, at least on a local scale.

An old broad-leaved forest – the habitat characteristic of the lady’s slipper. Photo: A.Priede


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