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The Lady's Slipper Orchid: Britain's rarest wildflower

Posted by Katy Peck on 4 July 2019
Related property: Kings Arms, Askrigg
The Lady's Slipper Orchid: Britain's rarest wildflower

There’s a reason we welcome so many nature-lovers to the Kings Arms – the Yorkshire Dales are a haven for wildlife, birds, flora and fauna. From red squirrels to birds of prey, you never know what you might spot as you head off for a scenic stroll through the National Park. But did you know that the Yorkshire Dales can lay claim to the rarest wildflower in Britain?  Here you'll find the elusive and exotic Lady’s Slipper Orchid.

Once upon a time, the Lady’s Slipper Orchid grew freely throughout Northern England. There’s even tales of bundles of the plant being sold in the marketplaces of Settle and Skipton. However, during the Victorian Era it fell victim to the orchid hunting craze, otherwise known as ‘orchidelirium’. During this time, wealthy collectors sent explorers to all corners of the world with the mission of finding new species of these beautiful and delicate flowers. Sadly, due to this obsession, the Lady’s Slipper Orchid was declared extinct in 1917.

… Until, astonishingly, 1930. Thirteen years after the flower was thought to have vanished, a botanist working in the Yorkshire Dales stumbled across a single plant, growing alone in a secluded part of the National Park. The Lady’s Slipper Orchid instantly became the rarest wildflower in Britain and a group called the Cypripedium Committee was formed to conserve and protect it. For almost 40 years, only a small group of botanists even knew about the plant’s continued existence.

The site where the single flower was discovered has remained a closely guarded secret to this very day, although the location has managed to leak into the public domain on a few occasions. Due to this, the plant is guarded during spring and summer, ensuring it doesn’t fall victim to overzealous orchidophiles or heavy-footed hikers! There’s even reports of the flower's wardens using trip-wires to alert them to intruders at the site.

The beauty of this flower is the reason it has become so rare - it’s easy to imagine Victorian orchid enthusiasts falling in love with its bright colours and exotic shape. Growing to around 30cm tall and taking up to 10 years to flower, the Lady’s Slipper then produces just one single bloom per plant. It’s this flower which gives the plant it’s unusual name; the yellow slipper-like pouch is surrounded by rich ribbons of dark maroon petals. In fact, it’s often called one of the most exquisite plants to grow in the British countryside.

A reintroduction project for the Lady’s Slipper Orchid started in 1990. Seeds taken from the one remaining wild plant were taken to the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, where they were successfully propagated and reintroduced to various locations across the country. The majority have been returned to Yorkshire, including Kilnsey Park, which is one of the few sites where the plants have flowered. The plant was even taken to the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, where it had its own private security guards.

Luckily for nature lovers staying at the Kings Arms, Kilnsey Park is open to the public. Although it’s a 45-minute drive from Askrigg, it’s worth it to catch a glimpse of Britain’s rarest wildflower. The Lady’s Slipper was introduced to the park in 2007 and first flowered some years later, much to everyone’s delight. Some of the orchids can now be seen from the publicly accessible nature walk, but be aware – they only flower for a couple of weeks a year, so plan your visit carefully! Admission dates and times, prices and information on guided walks can all be found on the Kilnsey park website.

With plenty of opportunities to get out and about in nature, the Yorkshire Dales is a fantastic choice for lovers of the great outdoors. Whether you’re a green-fingered expert or just an enthusiastic beginner, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Nestled in the delightful village of Askrigg, the Kings Arms and Lodge Yard are the perfect base for your adventures.

Click here to find out more about how you can enjoy a stay in Kings Yard, as well as our other holiday properties throughout the UK and Europe.

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Katy Peck

Katy Peck

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