Lady slipper orchids: Is it illegal to pick them?

Lady`s-slipper orchids, Cypripedium calceolus. Wildflowers, flowers. (Dreamstime/TNS)

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Lady`s-slipper orchids, Cypripedium calceolus. Wildflowers, flowers. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Q: I read an article about the rarity of lady slipper orchids. I have them on my property and am wondering how to care for or transplant them. Do you have any advice regarding these plants?

A: Commonly found growing in U.S. national forests, prairies and grasslands, lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium) come in about 50 species. They are rumored to be rare and illegal to kill (similar to lore that has followed the praying mantis), but the truth is it's only illegal to pick, dig or damage them on federal land and on public land in some municipalities and in New York State. The orchids, which don't typically take kindly to transplantation, are highly sought after and are being depleted, so in some areas they are considered endangered, if not exactly rare. You are free, however, to do what you want with the plants growing on your own property.

So I have to ask whether they were planted or just popped up. If you planted them, you might have luck digging up and moving them, but only after they’ve faded for the season. If they simply appeared, let them be. They’ve chosen that spot for a reason, and chances are high they won’t thrive elsewhere.

Q: I bought a small milkweed plant that I am growing for our monarchs. I'm growing it in a pot because I have a small garden, and I don't know how much it spreads. I was wondering how much I have to watch out for seeds flying in the air after it blooms because I want to keep it contained and not have it take over the garden.

A: Plants belonging to the Asclepias genus are beloved by many insects, but none so much as the monarch butterfly, which cannot survive without this host. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) spreads vigorously via its underground rhizome root system; although its seeds can be collected after bloom and saved for replanting, propagation by windblown seeds is not the concern it is for, say, mint. If you'd like to plant milkweed in the garden, consider other species. Swamp (or red) milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) do not spread via rhizomes, so are well-behaved in the garden (and equally attractive to monarchs).

Q: I have a ti plant that is close to 40 years old. Approximately twice a year, it gets hit with teeny weeny red insects and those white cottony insects under the leaves. I always wash the leaves with insecticidal soap and everything is fine afterward. I treated it about four to six weeks ago, and every few days I'm removing leaves that have turned brown at the tips before the entire leaf turns yellow. I cannot see any reinfestation. The plant has been in the same location and gets watered once a week. Nothing has changed and yet something seems wrong. Can you help?

A: Botanically known as Cordyline fruiticosa, ti plants also are commonly called "good luck plants." There are several factors that could result in brown leaf tips. Have you fertilized recently? It's important to avoid applying products that contain fluoride, and water only with distilled or bottled water, as the plants are sensitive to fluoride, which is found in some municipalities' tap water and many fertilizers.

Fungal infections, too, could result in the discoloration you’re reporting. Take care not to overwater or underwater; aim to keep the soil consistently moist but not wet or soggy.

Your description of “cottony insects” leads me to believe your plant suffered a mealy bug or scale infestation. They are somewhat similar in appearance, with mealy bugs a bit more cottony. You say you see no evidence of their return, but I’d like you to inspect under the leaves, where they tend to hide out. If you find mealy bugs, touch each with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab, and they should die on contact. Then wash the leaves, top and underside, with a soft cloth soaked in insecticidal soap (you can make you own with two tablespoons of liquid dish soap (not dishwasher detergent) and a gallon of water). If you continue to see evidence of mealy bugs, bring the plant outdoors and hose it down to remove them. Scale responds well to Neem oil treatments. Follow package directions.

My guess would be your “teeny weeny red insects” are spider mites, but you don’t mention their telltale webbing, which would be evident between leaves and elsewhere on the plant. An infestation would result in faded, blotchy leaves, not necessarily brown tips. Regardless, it’s important that you’ve eradicated them. They respond to the same treatment for mealy bugs.

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