The lady’s slipper flower – which is best known as the state blossom of Minnesota – is a rare and unusual plant in the orchidaceae and cypripedioideae subfamily. Cypripedioideae contains five genera – selenipedium, paphiopedilum, mexipedium, cypripedium and phragmipedium – which consist of roughly 150 species. The best known of these genera, however, is the cypripedium, or showy lady’s slipper flower. This extensive clan can be found growing almost the entire world over – from the United States to Europe, southeast Asia to Mexico. The heads of these flowers are made up of three tepals – or sepals – two petals, and a distinctively pouched labellum. The lady’s slipper may appear in a variety of colors and patterns – from purple to white, spotted to solid.
Although it is a myth that picking many state flowers is illegal, in this case it is true. These blossoms generally grow wild, and over time a large amount of their natural habitat has been turned over to agricultural interests. In 1925 the state of Minnesota made it illegal to uproot a showy lady’s slipper flower; during the mid-1930s in Massachusetts it became unlawful to dig up, injure or sell the blossom; while more recently in the United Kingdom, a 100 year old on lady’s slipper plant – which is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 – was heavily guarded during its growing period to prevent it from being clipped or otherwise damaged. Although this plant is well loved for its unique appearance, there are other reasons why people want so much to save it from extinction. One such example is its place in historical folklore. For instance, the story of a Native American maiden who fervently wished to follow her brother on his hunting trips. Although he always refused, she invariably found a way to follow him. On one trip, she lost sight of her brother and became lost in the thick woods. When her brother returned to the village his community told him that she had disappeared, so to find her they set up a blazing fire in hopes of sending out smoke signals. The wind, however, picked up and set the whole forest ablaze – including the area where the young maiden was hidden. Having lost hope, the community mourned her throughout the winter, but when the spring came, white and pink lady’s slippers sprang up and created a path that followed the maiden’s trail – leading the people directly to her.
Although it is frowned upon to pick a wild lady’s slipper flower, many people have made it their passion to cultivate these lovely blooms. Because of that, they make for unusual gifts that are often meant to represent unconventional and rare beauty.