Who We Are and What We Do

Our beginnings

 In 1990, Carol and Bill (left, below) Steele founded Spangle Creek Labs, a Washington State licensed nursery (currently licensed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture), for the purpose of selling off excess Cypripedium seedlings that Bill had grown as a result of his orchid conservation activities.

In the summer of 1986 while hiking in the woods near home, Bill came across a small colony of the yellow lady's-slipper, C. parviflorum, (photo below) which, although it was not in bloom, Bill recognized from his boyhood in northeastern Indiana. Because he had hiked extensively in eastern Washington during the 16 years he had lived there without previously finding this orchid, Bill realized the plant was rare, but he was dismayed to learn that the plant was classed as "endangered" by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. At that point he decided to undertake experiments to germinate Cypripedium seeds to learn if the local species could be artificially propagated to obtain plants for restocking wild sites.

From conservation to business

Although Bill's original interest was in propagating C. parviflorum, he also began experiments with C. reginae because there was more scientific literature available about germination of seeds of the latter species, and Bill hoped that by working with C. reginae he might gain insights into how to produce seedlings of the yellow slipper. In the next couple years, experiments with both species were successful, and soon there were too many seedlings! Time and greenhouse space were not sufficient to provide a good home for all of the seedlings produced, and rather than discard any precious "babies," we decided to try to sell them instead. Thus Spangle Creek Labs was born.

In 1997 the Steeles moved the business to northern Minnesota where the cool moist climate permits many Cyp species to be raised outdoors without the necessity of a greenhouse to maintain adequate humidity.  The company is still a "mom and pop" operation with Bill doing the propagating and Carol running the business.

Photos of Carol taking phone call.
Carol trying to explain our new shipping rates to a customer.  Whenever you call, you'll probably talk to Carol.

A company with a philosophy

Soon we realized that a much greater potential for native orchid conservation existed. Beyond merely propagating C. parviflorum seedlings for restocking our depleted local populations, the possibility of producing large numbers of seedlings for the horticultural trade might decrease the demand for wild-collected specimens of these plants. Although habitat destruction is probably the worst cause of disappearance of these plants from the wild, digging by collectors, both private and commercial, has caused these plants to vanish from the vicinity of urban areas. In some countries such as England and Japan where habitat destruction has been even more complete, collection has led to the near-extirpation of these plants. In England, only one specimen of the European yellow lady's-slipper remains in the wild. Fortunately, artificial propagation methods may eventually lead to restocking of suitable habitat.

Knowledge is our most important product

Despite early success with two Cypripedium species, Bill has spent much time trying to develop techniques for propagating other species from seed. Some of these efforts have been successful, but seeds of several species are still refusing to germinate. Perhaps ultimately, the most important result from our effort will be information about how to propagate the plants.

Because our most important goal is conservation of these plants, we encourage anyone interested in learning to flask Cyp seed to do so. Our methods are not proprietary; we are happy to share information with anyone who is serious about propagation. We consider that with more people propagating these orchids, there will be less pressure to remove them from the wild.

Photo of C. parviflorum
C. parviflorum photographed in Washington State, where the plant is listed as threatened.