Our State Flower: The Showy Lady’s Slipper
Lisa Olson, Master Gardener
Have you ever wondered about how state symbols came to be? Though united as one great nation, each of our 50 states is proud to highlight its unique representations, as varied as the individuals who inhabit their lands. Over the next several months, in this section you can learn more about some of our own Minnesota state symbols.
The state flower is a fitting place to launch our exploration of our state symbols as it paved the way for the rest of the symbols chosen to proudly represent each state. And so we begin with our Minnesota state flower, the showy lady’s slipper.
The showy lady’s slipper is also known by its Latin name, Cypripedium reginae, and more common name, pink and white lady’s slipper or simply moccasin flower. To the Ojibwe, it is known as Agobizowin. Its designation as Minnesota’s state flower was passed into law in 1967, but the journey began long ago in 1893, inspired by the World’s Fair in Chicago.
The 1893 World’s Fair brought people from each state and at least 40 countries to Chicago to celebrate ideas, inventions, and achievements. The Congress of Representative Women was a weeklong convention at the fair that brought hundreds of women together from across the United States and the world to voice concerns of the day in front of crowds numbering in the thousands. To prepare for the event, one idea proposed was the “National Garland of Flowers,” whereby each U.S. state and territory would choose a flower that represented the state’s history, culture, and environment at the fair. The plants chosen for the fair were not yet considered official state flowers, but the event did inspire states to consider the idea of an official state flower.
After consulting with a state botanist, women from across the state inclusive of every congressional district voted for a state flower from the following list:
The lady’s slipper won by a huge margin and a petition was written to the state legislature to make it the state flower. While the picture of the correct plant made its way onto the Minnesota state flag in 1893, the incorrect Latin name was used in the official petition to the legislature, and the Senate designated Cypripedium calceolous, a flower that doesn’t exist in Minnesota, as our state symbol. Thankfully, the women of the St. Anthony Study Circle caught the error, and in 1902 a new resolution was written. The error didn’t go unnoticed, however. Newspapers of the day were quick to run headlines proclaiming our state flower a fake. But all’s well that ends well. The corrected resolution was passed by the Senate and House naming Cypripedium reginae, or showy lady’s slipper, as our state flower. Finally, in 1967 an actual law was passed that sealed the correct plant its place in our state’s history as our official state flower.
The showy lady’s slipper is the tallest of over 40 orchid species native to Minnesota. The Latin species name reginae means “queen” and spotting this magnificent plant in the wild makes it clear how this moccasin flower got its name. It grows one to two feet tall and produces usually one or two flowers on its tall, sturdy stem. Out of a single rhizome, up to 20 stems may emerge. The flower consists of white petals and sepals and a magenta streaked inflated pouch, or slipper. Blooms last up to two weeks and typically occur in June to early July. Four to twelve large elliptical leaves that are five to ten inches long with parallel veins wrap around the stem. The leaves and stem are covered in bristle-like hair that may cause a rash if touched.
This showy plant commonly lives 50 years, though some plants have been known to survive 100 years! It is a good thing it is so long-lived as it may take up to 16 years for its first flower to bloom. Each year a plant may produce as many as 500,000 seeds that are as fine as flour dust. They do not transplant well. It is better to just enjoy them by taking a photo if you find one. In fact, since 1925, the showy lady’s slipper has been protected by law making it illegal to pick or dig up the plants. For specific rules regarding written permission and permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, you can read Information on transplanting Lady's-slipper Orchids.
Here are a few ways to enjoy the showy lady’s slipper in person:
Go to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Call the Bloom Line (612-625-9791) in advance to hear if they are in bloom along the Arb’s Bog Walk.
Walk along Lady’s Slipper Lane at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis.
Take a drive along Lady Slipper Scenic Byway in northern Minnesota through the Chippewa National Forest to see them blooming along the roadside.
To learn more about our beautiful state flower, see the following links for additional information:
Photo Credit: Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State (1), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and US Forest Service (2,3), Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (5)