Rare Lady’s Slipper Orchid Blooms at the San Diego Zoo for First Time in 14 Years


These stunning blooms were the key to the plant’s identity.

An extremely rare orchid has been identified by San Diego Zoo staff after the plant bloomed for the first time in almost 14 years. The rare flower is a Paphiopedilum stonei, (pronounced paff-ee-oh-PED-ih-lum stoney-eye). The endangered plant was confiscated at the border after being illegally transported into the US, and was placed with the Zoo—a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-designated Plant Rescue Center—where it has been safeguarded and cared for ever since. Plant care staff first identified the orchid as a Paphiopedilum when it arrived at the zoo back in 2001, but it wasn’t until the orchid’s recent bloom that they realized it was a species called Paphiopedilum stonei.

The Paphiopedilum stonei’s peculiar and distinctive pouch-shaped petal gives the orchid species its popular name: lady’s slipper. The species grows on steep limestone cliffs and ledges of western Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. It was first discovered and introduced to private collections in 1862, and today it is critically endangered due to overcollection by orchid poachers. This orchid is one of over 60 different species of lady’s slippers that are part of the San Diego Zoo’s diverse orchid collection.

San Diego Zoo guests can view this orchid—one of over 3,000 orchid plants at the Zoo—during Orchid Odyssey at the Zoo’s Orchid House, on the third Friday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. However, this flower is expected to be past bloom by then.

Photo taken on Sept. 30, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo