“Four years ago, University of Maine alumni Linwood and Jean White embarked on a mission to save the bright yellow lady slippers that had been growing in the backyard of their Orono home for more than 70 years. Today the rare and beautiful flowers are thriving in UMaine’s Fay Hyland Botanical Garden.
The Whites had been enjoying the lady slippers since 1990 when they moved into their Victorian-style home on Cedar Street. But when the fir trees surrounding the flowers died and had to be removed, the couple worried that, left unprotected, the lady slippers would suffer a similar fate.
So they offered some of their precious plants to UMaine’s Fay Hyland Garden, managed by their good friend Chris Campbell, a professor in the School of Biology and Ecology. They figured if anyone knew how to care for the orchids, it would be he!
“I was happy to accept,” said Professor Campbell. “I thought they’d make a good addition to the garden. Lady slippers are native to Maine, so this sort of rescue operation made a lot of sense. And, although one can never be sure about transplanting orchids, they all seem to have taken.
“Now, we’re just trying to do what we can to make sure they continue to thrive. They’re in a spot where they’re not easily seen by people who might pick them. And they have light and are in a fairly moist area. Light and moisture are essential for orchids.”
Determined to ensure their survival, Professor Campbell built a little pinecone fence around the lady slippers to ward off slugs.
“They can’t crawl over it now.”
Located on 10 acres bordering the Stillwater River, the Fay Hyland Arboretum is a living collection of woody plants native to Maine. The arboretum also includes many interesting exotic species and serves as a resource for teaching, research, and recreation.
The Whites say they are pleased that the lady slippers – an endangered species in some states – took so well to their new home. They enjoy knowing that people who may not ever have seen the elusive flower now have the perfect opportunity.
“We thought it was a good idea to give them to the university,” said Jean, who graduated from UMaine in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in home economics. “We just wanted to share what was here.”
The flowers have special significance for Lin White since they may have been planted as long ago as 1939 by Geddes Simpson, distinguished UMaine researcher and professor emeritus of entomology, who owned the stately 1830’s house before the Whites purchased it.
“He was a good friend — I knew him for years,” said Lin, who earned a master’s degree and a CAS, both in education, from UMaine in the 1950s. He served as principal at the Asa Adams Elementary School.
Nowadays, Lin is doing what he can to preserve the remaining lady slippers in his backyard. “I planted another fir tree beside them so I’m hoping it will provide them with the type of soil they lived in before.”
Each day he makes his way down the back stairs to check on his beloved flowers.
“They’re not a pretentious thing,” he says. “They’re down there behind some stumps covered by an old green window shutter for protection.
“But they certainly are beautiful.”
Image Description: Transplanted lady slippers flourish at Fay Hyland Arboretum