Phragmipedium is a genus of the Orchid family (Orchidaceae) (Subfamily Cypripedioideae) and the only genus comprised in the tribe Phragmipedieae and subtribe Phragmipediinae. The name of the genus is derived from the Greek phragma, which means "division", and pedium, which means "slipper" (referring to the pouch). It is abbreviated Phrag in trade journals.
About 20 species of these lady's slipper orchids are known from SW Mexico, Central and tropical South America. The exact number of species is still being discussed among specialists : O. Gruss recognizes 20 species, compared to the 15 species accepted by Lucile M. McCook (see References).
Most Phragmipedium species are either terrestrial, epiphytic or lithophytic in habit. They show a unique shieldlike staminode, long, moustache-like petals and a 3-locular ovary. The large pouchlike lip is curved inwards at the margins. The acute leaves attain a length of about 80cm. The stem lacks pseudobulbs and grows about 80 cm high, showing 2 to 3 flowers.
Phragmipedium besseae was first found in Peru by Elizabeth Locke Besse in 1981. Soon afterwards, the site was plundered and destroyed by orchid hunters. Luckily enough seed was preserved, to avert extinction. This orchid is unusual, because its flowers have a bright orange-red to almost strong salmon-red color (there is also a yellow variety), unseen in any lady's slipper orchid. The oval-shaped petals are wide. The narrow leaves are elliptic in shape. It has since been used extensively in hybridization.
Phragmipedium caudatum is considered a complex, i.e. it could contain several species or subspecies, based on differences in flower size and color. This orchid with a short stem is semi-terrestrial, semi-lithophytic to epiphytic, depending on the substrate . The cream-colored flowers are laced with greenish stripes. The lateral spiraling, drooping petals are red-tinted and very long, even reaching the soil. They grow on wet, moss-covered hillsides.
Phragmipedium lindleyanum, named after John Lindley, forms a rosette of five long linear leaves with a yellow margin, reaching a length of 50 cm. The erect raceme can grow as high as 1 m. It is many-flowered and sometimes branched at the basis. The flowers open in succession, giving the orchid a long blooming period. The hoary flowers are green with brown veins. The glabrous, pouchlike lip is yellow, with red veins.
Phragmipedium longifolium, described in 1852 by H.G. Reichenbach f. and J. v. Warscewicz, has long laceolate leaves without yellow margin, growing to a length of 60 cm. The inflorescence reaches a length of 1 m, with about 10 flowers, opening in succession. The long lateral petals are purplish green. The rather small glabrous labellum has a green color.
There are many interspecific hybrids. Rare crossings have been made between Phragmipedium and Paphiopedilum.
All members of the genus Phragmipedium are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).Uropedium Lindl. is generally included into Phragmipedium.