Lady’s-slipper, Cypripedium calceolus L., is considered one of the most beautiful wild orchids in Romania, which is why it was excessively harvested until it became a rarity, protected by royal decree since 1938. The plant grows up to 80 cm in height, with broad, oval leaves and large flowers. Their lower lip swells to form a yellow slipper, adorned with purple dots and stripes, while the rest of the petals tend to shade towards dark red. The population of these orchids, which are extremely rare in Europe, is concentrated primarily in the Retezat Mountains, specifically in the smaller Retezat, in the massifs of Piule, Scorotele, Piatra Iorgovanului, and Albele.
Lady’s-slipper thrives in shaded areas and prefers calcareous soils. It is known by this name in Bucovina and Moldova, while in Transylvania, it is simply called slipper.

Geographical and Climatic Context

The tropical flora of the Retezat Mountains, preserved in fossils found in the coal deposits of the Petroșani depression, disappeared during the Quaternary glacial period when the permanent snowline extended to the Southern Carpathians. The traces of glaciation are felt not only in the spectacular landscape of glacial peaks, gigantic glacial cirques, lakes surrounded by moraines, but also in the harsh climate that preserved a unique flora. However, the Mediterranean influence from the Cerna Valley brings a warmer climate to the Retezat Mountains, allowing its thermophilic rocks, which succeed in storing this extra heat, to house a variety of southern plants, migrated from the Banat Mountains. The combination of climate and rock structures creates a fertile environment for a unique flora in glacial terraces, scree slopes, around the lakes, and on the high meadows, forming plant associations scientifically known as “retezaticum.”

The Legend of Lady’s-slipper

There was a time when the Turks looted and devastated the lands of the Romanians, killing them or dragging them as if they were cattle to their country, from where they never returned. During that time, on the outskirts of a village, there was a beautiful house belonging to a widow whose husband had died fighting the Turks. The woman was left with her son, who was perfectly resembling to his father. One day, while the boy was playing and she was working in the household, she saw the Turks coming towards the village from the top of a hill. She grabbed her child and ran towards the center of the village to warn her neighbors of the danger. However, as it had rained in the days prior, the road was muddy, and one of her slippers got stuck in the mud. Of course, the woman didn’t pay attention to it and continued running, shouting loudly that the Turks were coming. The villagers armed themselves with pitchforks, axes, and whatever they had at hand and went out to fight, successfully driving the Turks back to where they came from. When the danger finally seemed to have passed, the lady, along with a few villagers, went in search of her lost slipper, but without success, as the slipper seemed to have sunk into the ground. What’s more, right where she remembered her slipper getting stuck in the mud, a weed had grown, and its flower looked exactly like a slipper. “And from then on, that weed has been called Lady’s-slipper. And it is still called like that today.”

This legend was collected by Simion Florea Marian from the Bucovina region and published in “Romanian Folk Botany.”

From there, we also learn that therapeutically, Lady’s-slipper is used for sprained ankles. The plant, made into a poultice, is applied to the injured foot three times a day for three days.

The Legend of Piatra Iorgovanului

The legend of the rock on which Lady’s-slipper flowers grow apparently dates from the same period as the plant legend, when the Turks roamed the lands of Romania. It goes like this:

Once upon a time, there was a dragon that ate girls and had made its way to the Retezat Mountains. Back then, near Hațeg, in a place called Subcetate, there lived an emperor who also had a daughter. His castle, the ruins of which are said to be visible even today, was near a mountain peak that the emperor had cut off to have a better view of the surroundings and avoid being taken by surprise by the girl-eating dragon, hence the name of the Retezat mountain. The news of the danger spread far and wide to the hero Ivan Iorgovan, who went to a blacksmith to forge him a sword as swift as thought. Receiving the sword, the brave man decided to test it and struck a rock with such force that it created a spring from that spot. From then on, the rock was called Piatra Iorgovanului.
Ivan, riding the Bou mountain, confronted the dragon and cut off the tip of its tail. He then pursued it further on the Borăscu mountain, tearing pieces from it along the Cerna Valley, and finally cut off its head near Mehadia. The legend goes on to describe how the dragon’s head hid in the Coronini cave and gave rise to swarms of venomous flies that devastated everything in their path. The legend ends together with the last earthly remains of the dragon, the “columbace” flies, forever sealed by the Turks who walled up the cave’s entrance.


1. Tudor Opriș, Unique plants in the Romanian landscape, București, Editura Sport-Turism, 1990
2. Simion Florea Marian, Popular Romanian botany Volume II, Editura Academiei Române, Suceava, 2010

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