In Search of the Lady Slipper Orchid

28 June 2016

After three hours of searching the rugged woodland on the slopes of Sassongher, hair covered in pine needles and cobwebs from checking every rock and low hanging branch, I plonked myself down on a rock and examined the map once again. I had set out on what I’d thought would be a reasonably straight forward task and was following directions to a spot above Corvara that promised to deliver a rare sight.

In fairness I’d been warned that my subject would be a difficult one to track down and I was starting to realise why my advisor (one of the resort flower experts) had been so keen to escort me. I was beginning to wish I’d taken him up on the offer. I was looking for a path not marked on the map and had been told not to look for the biggest boulder in sight –there were many –and not to go any further than the bench. Well I’d found numerous paths and at least four benches and I was beginning to wonder what constituted the correct one. The only other advice I’d been given was to look out for a man-made waterway or stream which I’d yet to find. Temptation to head back to the chalet for a cup of tea was growing but the thought of going back empty handed was a daunting one and the bulk of my camera seemed to weigh heavier as I thought of turning back.

My prize was a flower. Well an orchid really. An orchid so rare in certain European countries now that some authorities have kept it under armed guard to protect it from further decline. Luckily there were no armed guards here today in the Alta Badia, just a steadily growing haze of midges. Discarding the notion of benches and boulders I went in search of the waterway in a last ditch attempt. A further 200m or so down the path the trees parted to my left, giving way to a cascade of rocks that could have indeed been a dried up riverbed. A flicker of hope. And sure enough just beyond was a bench. I turned uphill and started my ascent up the scree. I selected the largest boulder in view and made a beeline for it.

Then there they were. Cypripedioideae, more commonly known as the lady slipper orchid. A group of six nestled at the base of the boulder. Characterised by their bright yellow slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects, forcing them to pollinate the orchid, dark purple petals and large green leaves they’re instantly recognisable.

When to look for the lady slipper

Flower enthusiasts from all over the world travel to the Dolomites to observe and photograph the rich fauna and flora. In May and June the meadows are at their best adding a sporadic injection of colour to the meadows. Higher up in the rocky and glacial zones alpine flowers are equally in abundance. In a landscape full of and trumpet gentians it’s hard not to feel like you’re in a scene from The Sound of Music, an understandable reason why people come back again and again!

Through my years of working with Colletts in various mountainous locations I’ve been lucky enough to go along on many of the flower walks on offer to our guests. During the early months of the summer season flower experts join our chalet teams and host their own specialist days that highlight the flowers in season. A complete novice in the subject when I first joined, I have slowly absorbed information about the plants I see on a daily basis and can now identify a growing number of varieties. I’ve also formed my own ‘to do list’ in terms of tracking down flowers I’ve yet to see.

There are some illusive flowers that are much harder to find however and even when you’ve got your eye in it may be necessary to get some local knowledge for the more secret of spots. I certainly wouldn’t have been stood before this collection of orchids without being pointed in the right direction first. I took my photos and enjoyed the moment for a while. The forest was completely deserted and apart from the birds and trees there wasn’t a single sound. It’s a feature of the Dolomites that you don’t have to venture far from civilisation to find some peace and quiet.

Being so well hidden, many visitors to the Alta Badia will pass sights like this by none the wiser. But with the right information or the company of one of our local experts the less obvious gems of the landscape can be discovered. All you need to do is ask one of our organisers at office hour and you two could discover something unique a little off the beaten track. Alternatively, check out our walking in the Dolomites page for more information. 

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