Saving the Lady’s Slipper – An Iconic Orchid Back from the Brink

A film by Annette Frei Berthoud and Sélim Berthoud

A hundred years ago there were still thousands of wild lady's slipper orchids in Switzerland. Due to habitat destruction and poaching, the plant is now almost extinct. A few years ago, passionate experts from Switzerland, England and Holland, supported by the Swiss Orchid Foundation at the Jany Renz Herbarium, decided not to let nature simply run its course, but to cultivate the plants in a greenhouse and return them to the wild. The film by Annette Frei Berthoud and Sélim Berthoud documents this project.

Running against Time

Switzerland is becoming more and more overbuilt, new roads and intensive agriculture are pushing back nature, and as a result the habitat for many wild plants, including the lady's slipper orchid, is disappearing. Poachers have given many sites the deathblow. Thousands of lady's slippers were not only picked, but dug up and planted in gardens. The dug up plants die in the garden after a short time because they lack the right living conditions, especially a particular fungus with which the orchid lives in symbiosis. Since it takes about 12 years until a seed turns into a flowering plant, the protected orchid is acutely threatened in the wild.

From the Alps to Holland

In June 2014, the experts visited several sites in different cantons and pollinated the wild plants by hand. After 48 days, the seed capsules were collected. At the orchid growing company Anthura in Holland, the seeds were propagated using state-of-the-art methods and the young plants remained in the greenhouse for three years under ideal conditions. Because the lady's slipper is a delicate plant, there were nevertheless many losses: of the approximately 25,000 seedlings, only about one-fifth survived the first year. The strongest plants were grown further. As it later turned out, this was the basis for success.

Return to Secret Places in Switzerland

In June 2018 the time had come: 3000 lady's slipper orchids, grown in Holland from Swiss wild seeds and donated by Anthura, were planted out at 48 secret locations in Switzerland. One year later, despite difficult climatic conditions, most of the plants have survived and are now in full bloom: the huge effort of two dozen volunteers over many years for a single plant species has paid off. The lady's slipper is thus a flagship for innovative species protection projects.

Documentation of the Project

The team from Berthoud Media GmbH, Annette Frei Berthoud and Sélim Berthoud, accompanied the project with the camera for several years. The production of the film was supported by the Swiss Orchid Foundation at the Jany Renz Herbarium, the Foundation for the Promotion of Plant Knowledge and the Lottery Funds of the cantons of Aargau, Baselland, Obwalden and Jura. Further contributions from foundations are planned. The result is a documentation in three language versions, German, English and French. The film (50 min) documents the entire process: development of the project in England and Switzerland, pollination of the wild plants, collection of the seed capsules, cultivation of the young plants at the Anthura company in Holland, planting out the young adult lady's slippers at 48 locations in Switzerland, success control after one year. Together with the detailed project report by the project manager Samuel Sprunger, the film serves as a documentation, but is also intended as an educational film for schools, nature conservation organisations and other interested parties. It is available to the public in German and French and in English.

Deutsch               Français                English

The Lady’s Slipper on Swiss Television

To our great delight, the project and the film won the interest of the television programme NZZ Format, which wanted a shortened version of 30 minutes.

Film Clip



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