Regularity: Regularly occurring
Global Range: Cypripedium kentuckiense is found on the Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky and northern Tennessee; the Tennessee Uplands; the Interior Highlands of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and potentially Missouri (many sites in the Ouachita Mountains and some in the Ozark Mountains); the Piedmont and Gulf/Upper Gulf Coastal Plains of Alabama and the Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi (Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory 2001, A. Schotz, pers. comm., 2002). Also occurs disjunctly on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of Virginia and Georgia (T. Patrick, pers. comm., 2002).
Catalog Number: US 3274283
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): C. F. Reed
Year Collected: 1949
Locality: Elliot, Kentucky, United States, North America
- Holotype: Reed, C. F. 1981. Phytologia. 48: 426.
Comments: Mesic, shaded areas in mature floodplain forests, near streams and creeks (e.g., sandy stream terraces on flats right above active floodplain) and in ravines. Also associated with woodland acid spring seeps, where often found on seepage margins (Ouachita National Forest 2001), and with forested limestone seeps adjacent to bayheads (T. Patrick, pers. comm., 2002).
Known Pests: Feral hogs are a known threat to this orchid. Overbrowsing by deer is also a threat (Chafin 2007).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: Approximately 100-200 occurrences are believed extant (about 100 confirmed extant and 100 not yet assessed). Approximately half of these occurrences are in Arkansas, with significant numbers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana as well, and the remainder scattered throughout the rest of range. An additional 19 occurrences are considered historical or extirpated.
Life History and Behavior
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Cypripedium kentuckiense occurs in a somewhat narrow range from the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky and northern Tennessee with outlier populations in central Georgia and Coastal Plain Virginia, west to the Interior Highlands of Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma, and south to the Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Its moderate range is somewhat misleading as most sites/populations are quite small; approximately 100-200 occurrences are believed extant, but less than 30 of these may good viability. Collection is a significant threat with many incidents of poaching documented. Other threats include herbivory by white-tailed deer, disturbance by feral hogs, road construction, and habitat destruction due to logging, pine agriculture, and reservoir construction. This species' habitat has been considerably reduced from its historical extent. Believed to be moderately declining in Arkansas and significantly declining in Kentucky; these two states contain the majority of extant occurrences. However, occurrences in some other parts of the range appear to be stable.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 30-50%
Comments: Poulations fluctuate widely year-to-year, making trends difficult to determine. In Arkansas, some sites appear to be "thriving" (Ouachita National Forest 2001), but the species is estimated to be moderately declining overall; collection/poaching is a serious threat and road construction is an issue (T. Witsell, pers. comm., 2006, 2010). The status is apparently improving in Oklahoma (Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory 2001). East Texas occurrences appear to be fairly stable; and most are on protected lands (J. Poole and J. Singhurst, pers. comm. 2010). It is in considerable decline (> 50%) in population size and extent throughout its range in Kentucky; no Kentucky populations have been increasing (D. White, pers. comm., 2002, 2010). One of the five known Alabama populations (all of them small) recently fell victim to plant poachers (A. Schotz, pers. comm., 2002). The Georgia site appears to be a young population slowly expanding, with several juveniles scattered some distance from a half dozen clustered flowering plants (T. Patrick, pers. comm., 2002).
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 50-90%
Comments: Considerable loss of this species' historical habitat has occurred rangewide. In Arkansas, Ouachita river terraces habitat has been greatly reduced from its historical extent (T. Witsell, pers. comm. 2010). There has also been significant habitat loss in east Texas and Louisiana, where it is estimated that less than 20-30% of this species' historical habitat remains (J. Poole and J. Singhurst, pers. comm. 2010). In Kentucky, historical habitat loss is estimated to exceed 50% (D. White, pers. comm. 2010).
Degree of Threat: Very high - high
Comments: Collection is a significant threat. Cypripedium kentuckiense is actively collected for sale (D. White, pers. comm. 2002) and pressure to raid natural populations may be increasing, even though the species is advertised by several nurseries as available laboratory-propagated (T. Patrick pers. comm., 2002). Serious collection pressure exists in Arkansas, with documented incidents of poaching (T. Witsell, pers. comm. 2006, 2010). The Georgia site is treated as confidential and access has been restricted to avoid unauthorized plant collection (T. Patrick, pers. comm. 2002). Herbivory by white-tailed deer is another serious threat across many parts of the range, and disturbance by feral hogs is an issue in a number of areas. In addition, road/highway construction is a threat in many areas, both the actual construction taking place on a site where the plants occur and the resultant changes in hydrology over a wider area (Tennessee Natural Heritage Program 2001, D. White, pers. comm. 2002, T. Witsell pers. comm. 2010). Also threatened by other types of habitat destruction such as logging, pine agriculture, and reservoir construction (Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory 2001). At the Georgia site, logging of hardwoods and conversion to pine monoculture is an imminent threat (T. Patrick, pers. comm. 2002). In Texas, some sites contain no reproductive individuals, likely because Texas represents a relict area of distribution for this species (J. Poole and J. Singhurst pers. comm. 2010).
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: This is a wetland plant which tolerates some flooding. Maintenance of the natural flood regime for the creeks where the populations occur is an important part of site conservation planning.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Production Methods: Cultivated, Wild-harvested
Comments: Cypripedium kentuckiense is propagated and grown by several nurseries which specialize in orchid propagation. Collection of wild plants continues to be a threat.
Stewardship Overview: Protection of habitat of the population is important. This includes control of exotic plants, and feral hogs which may root up these rare plants. Population enhancement by seed collection, nursery propagation, and reintroduction of nursery grown seedlings back to the same site the seed was collected is a promising approach.
Originally thought to be an aberrant form of Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, the morphology of C. kentuckiense suggests it is a species of its own. However, molecular evidence suggests that C. kentuckiense is actually closer to Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum than it is to Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens.
C. kentuckiense has the largest flower of in the genus Cypripedium. The petals and sepals are greenish striped and mottled with purple while the very large lip, or pouch, is a creamy ivory or pale yellow. The plant can be up to 70 cm tall and has bract leaf-like leaves that are up to 12 cm long. Each plant is usually single-flowered.
Cypripedium kentuckiense is found in a large swathe through the central portion of the United States including Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Tennessee. Additionally, there is a small patch in Lancaster County, Virginia. However, the range of this species is not continuous; it mostly consists of relatively isolated patches. It is most often found in deep ravines on acidic and sandstone soils.
- Phillip Cribb & Peter Green (1997). The Genus Cypripedium (a botanical monograph). Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Timber Press ISBN 0-88192-403-2
- Case, M.A, H.T. Mlodozeniec, L.E. Wallace, and T.W. Weldy. 1998. Conservation genetics and taxonomic status of the rare Kentucky Lady's Slipper: Cypripedium kentuckiense (Orchidaceae). American Journal of Botany, vol. 85, num. 12: 1779-1786
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Cypripedium kentuckiense is very distinctive. In addition to the very large flowers and pale coloring of the lip, the form of the orifice is unique. In related species the orifice is a restricted opening in the adaxial surface of the lip; in C. kentuckiense the orifice replaces the basal portion of the adaxial surface, the sides of the lip terminating abruptly at the orifice without curving toward the horizontal. In herbarium specimens this detail is obscured, but the cavernous nature of the orifice is emphasized by the adaxial surface descending from the apical margin of the orifice toward the apex of the lip; the obovoid lip appears to hang from the margin of the orifice, and the lip is not particularly slipper-shaped. In contrast, in related species, the adaxial surface of the lip surrounds the orifice and extends forward toward the apex, forming a more convincing slipper. These distinctions hold virtually throughout the known populations of C. kentuckiense; only in two Arkansas populations is the lip form suggestive of related species. The Arkansas populations may reflect very limited introgression from C. parviflorum var. pubescens.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Cypripedium kentuckiense was recognized as a distinct species in the 1970s; it was formerly confused with various other members of the Cypripedium calceolus group. Isozyme data suggest that Cypripedium kentuckiense should be recognized as a distinct species, possibly of recent origin from Cypripedium parviflorum (Case et al. 1998).
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