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History behind the lady slipper

Most people have seen a Pink and White Lady's Slipper and know it's the state flower. But does anyone know how, when and why it got that distinction?

In a Feb. 4, 1893 resolution that appears in the Senate Journal, a resolution was made to designate the lady slipper or moccasin, or Cypripedium calceolus, as the state flower. Problem was, it didn't actually grow in Minnesota.

A Feb. 2, 1902, issue of the Minneapolis Triune had the headline "State flower called fake."

According to www.ladyslipperscenicbyway.org, the tale goes that after the ladies of Saint Anthony Study Circle of Minneapolis made it public to the Minneapolis Tribune that the flowers didn't even grow in Minnesota, "the legislature, embarrassed by the publicity, moved quickly to correct the situation."

So, on Feb. 19, 1902, again appearing in the Senate Journal, the resolution was corrected by replacing "Cypripedium calceolus" with "Cypripedium reginae," solving the problem.

On April 25, 1925, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law saying that no one was allowed to pick the lady slipper, protecting the rare flower by law.

One of the state's rarest wildflowers, lady slippers can be seen in ditches along the road, mainly in swampy areas. The plant can take from four to 16 years to produce its first flower, and it can live for many years, some reports of 50-100 years. Now is the time to see them in full bloom.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, the state has been regulating the collection and commercial sale of lady slippers. The pink and white flower (or "showy") is just one of 43 orchid species found in Minnesota.

"In its first year, this orchid grows only as tall as a pencil point," the site says. "Each year, the lady's slipper may produce a half-million seeds, which are as fine as flour dust. This flower has a long life span; some may be 100 years old."

Unfortunately, it's because of illegal picking, wetland damage and roadside spraying the flower is considered rare.

Because of its popularity, there are many things within the state named for the delicate flower.

In 1990, Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 81 miles of Highway 11 a Minnesota Wildflower Route because of the hundreds and thousands lady slippers growing alongside the roadway.

Also, the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway is 28 miles long, following County Road 39 between Blackduck and Highway 2 east of Cass Lake.

While there isn't a designation in Becker County, the ditches along Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids are filled with them. Not that they can't be spotted here and there in many other areas though, too.

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