Plant Profile: Showy Lady’s Slipper

lady slipperEvery school child in Minnesota should be able to recognize the whimsical, shoe-like  look of the showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae), our state flower and a show-stopping orchid that is native to the bogs and wetlands of the state, particularly in the north.

Supporters of MSHS were treated to an up-close look at the state flower during a visit to the gardens of Betty Ann Addison last week for the annual Garden Gathering. (You can read a profile of Betty Ann’s amazing garden in the May/June issue of Northern Gardener.)

My first impression of the showy lady’s slippers: Gosh, they are big! I guess they call them showy for a reason.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the showy lady’s slipper is one of 43 orchid species native to Minnesota. They are a rare species but can be found in northern Minnesota, particularly along the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway.

lady slipper two flowerWhile lady’s slippers like bright light, they also want wet feet. They tend to grow in spruce and tamarack bogs, damp edges of woods and other wetlands. They start out very small, but eventually mature to 1 to 2 feet tall, with gorgeous pink and white flowers shaped like — well, slippers. An established stand of showy lady slippers can grow for decades, with some plants in the state said to be 100 years old.

Betty Ann's boggy area included a large stand of showy lady slippers.

Betty Ann’s boggy area included a large stand of showy lady slippers.

Lady’s slippers are delicate, however, and road construction, wetland drainage and herbicide applications can all damage or destroy colonies of lady’s slippers. They also are a protected plant and cannot be taken from wild sites. If you think you have a spot in your garden for lady slippers, be sure to buy from a reputable nursery.