The quest for unusual shade plants

Part two of this column of unusual plants for the shade garden, includes descriptions on how to grow Jack-in-the-pulpit and lady slipper. Although a little less common and available in nurseries than trilliums, I strongly encourage you to try either of these plants in your garden, if you can find them.
Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a perennial wildflower that is native to many parts of Canada and is an unique plant with an interesting growth habit. The structure that most people call the flower is actually a tall stalk (or spadix), inside a hooded cup, known as a spathe. The true flowers are the tiny, green or yellow-tinged dots that line the stalk. The entire structure is surrounded by large, three-lobed leaves that often hide the spathe from view. In late summer or fall, the spathe falls off and the flowers give way to decorative, bright red berries.
Because Jack-in-the-pulpit prefers a very moist, but slightly acidic and fertile soil in the shade. They will often tolerate soils that are poorly drained so they can be considered for bog or rain gardens. Make sure to add organic material to the soil around the plant on a regular basis and mulch to retain moisture.
Jack-in-the-pulpit grows from a corm and they are available to the gardener in a few ways. If you are lucky enough to find one in a local nursery or a fellow gardener, already established that is a bonus. You may also find them in the local nursery as a packaged corm, ready to plant, in the fall when other fall bulbs arrive or get them through mail order. Whichever way you have acquired the plant, try to plant container-grown Jack-in-the-pulpit plants in the spring and the corms, in the fall, at a depth of fifteen centimetres. Sometimes you may find seeds at your local seed supplier, by mail order or at a seed exchange or from a gardener as the seeds can be harvested from the ripe berries. I encourage you to try growing some from seed but be patient, as plants grown from seeds have only one leaf the first year and it takes them three or more years to come to flower.
Lady Slipper
The lady slipper is one of the native orchid species that is found in northwestern Ontario. I have come across both the yellow, and white and pink species while working in the bush. Many people have never had the pleasure of coming across this flower in the wild and in some parts of Canada it is considered threatened. Lucky for us gardeners, the lady slipper varieties are now available through some specialized nurseries and mail order plant suppliers in Canada.
Some of the more common varieties available include:
Pink lady slipper (C.acaule) has deep pink flowers about eight centimetres long and exhibits a slightly sweet-smelling aroma. It blooms from late June into July.
Yellow lady slipper (C. calceolus) blooms in early spring and is found mostly in rich woodlands or along the edges or elevated areas of bogs. Its counterpart, the large or greater yellow lady slipper (C. parviflorum pubescens) can grow up to sixty centimetres tall, with the flower petals up to 16 centimetres across.
Showy lady’s slipper (C. reginae) is another large species, thirty to sixty centimetres tall, that grows naturally in bogs, swamps, wet meadows and damp woodlands. The white flower is streaked with pink and blooms in late spring/early summer.
White lady’s slipper (C. candidum) reaches anywhere from fifteen to thirty centimetres in height. This particular species is considered endangered in some parts of the United States and Canada but may be available from reputable nurseries.
Lady slippers prefer to grow in a well, aerated soil, with plenty of organic matter and moist conditions. Do not put them in full sun or dry locations. Dappled sunlight under tall trees is ideal for growing a lady slipper wildflower. They do benefit in the spring and early fall from a fertilizer such as bone meal. Again winter protection of a layer of leaves is a good idea.
They are not the easiest plants to grow and part of the difficulty in finding lady slipper species regularly at local nurseries is due to the difficulty in propagating these plants. It does take a lot to master their cultivation and they can take years to develop. It can be at least two to four years before they flower and then a nursery will feel confident enough to make them available for sale. Hence, they are considerably more expensive than the average perennial. If you can find seeds for sale anywhere, I do encourage you to try them but follow the instructions on the label or Internet carefully, as they are very hard to germinate. Extreme attention to detail, and a great deal of patience, may reward you with one of the most difficult plants to grow.
There is a tremendous amount of pride when you can successfully grow plants that are not that common in the garden. But be warned, the quest for unusual species is quite addicting and may become an obsession for you as well.