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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

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Common Name
Showy Lady's-slipper

 

Scientific Name
Cypripedium reginae Walter

 

Plant Family
Orchid (Orchidaceae)

Garden Location
Woodland Marsh

 

Prime Season
Late Spring. Earliest - May 24 2012; latest June 21st; average - around June 10th.

 

 

One of the two Lady's-slippers in the Garden (the other being the Yellow Lady's-slipper), the Yellow blooms first, usually by mid-May. One of the jewels of the summer Woodland Garden, this plant is the state flower of Minnesota.

Showy Lady's-slipper is a large deciduous perennial orchid growing on hairy stems. Stems are to about 2 - 2-1/2 feet high. It became the Minnesota State Flower on Feb. 19th, 1902.

The leaves are long ellipticals that clasp the stem alternately, have heavy ribs and are hairy. Both stem and leaves of the Cypripedium genus can cause dermatitis.

The inflorescence is a terminal cluster of 1 to 3 (rarely 4) flowers. Behind each flower on the stem is an upright green floral bract that looks like a small leaf.

Flowers: Members of the genus Cypripedium have 3 sepals and 3 petals. Two sepals are joined together as to appear as one. The third is dorsal and forms a hood that is somewhat ovate in shape. These are pure white. Two petals are horizontal, more elongate than the sepals, sometimes recurved, and are also pure white in color. The lower petal forms an inflated lip, or pouch, or slipper which is about 2 inches long. (see the photo below for how this arrangement looks from the back side of the flower). The pouch is white, with pinkish tinges and streaked with rose or purple and inside, dotted in the same color. Pure white specimens are known. The sexual parts are inside the pouch, somewhat hidden by a the large ovoid dorsal anther of a white false stamen (a staminode). There is a real anther to either side. Most exterior parts of the flower have fine hair except for the pouch.

Seed: Pollination is usually be bees and fertile flowers produce an ellipsoid capsule containing many small dust-like seeds, but reproduction is normally via the root system. Plants usually require 4+ years before flowering. See bottom of page for comments of Eloise Butler and Martha Crone.

 

Habitat: Showy Lady's-slipper grows in bogs, swamps, wet meadows and wet prairies and other cool damp places - all as long as the soil is not permanently wet. It grows from a rhizomatous root system, which is its means of reproduction in the wild. This species tolerates more sunlight than other Cypripediums and in The Wildflower Garden, 5 to 6 hours of sunlight is not unusual. From the wild they do not transplant with complete success due to a symbiotic relationship with certain soil fungus called “mycorrhiza.” The nursery trade has learned to grow them commercially (see this article) and that is the only place where one can legally acquire this plant as it is protected by law in the wild.

Names: The genus Cypripedium is derived from several Greek words that mean "Venus's shoe". The species, reginae, is Latin for "of the queen". The pure white of this species is considered stunning. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Walter’ refers to Thomas Walter (1740-1789) British born American botanist, best known for his 1788 catalogue of plants of South Carolina, Flora Caroliniana, in which he described this species that he had collected in the mountains of western North Carolina. He unexpectedly died the following year.

Comparisons: While the color of this species is unique, compare the plant to C. parviflorum, Greater Yellow Lady's-slipper, which is also located in the Garden.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Showy Lady's-slipper 2014 blooms

Above: Blooms at Eloise Butler. 1st photo - blooms on June 23, 2008. 2nd photo - June 17, 2014.

Below: 2nd photo - Leaf detail of heavy ribbing and surface hair. 3rd photo - Young shoots before the flower stem develops.

Showy Lady's-slipper leaf Showy Lady's-slip[per growing shoot

Below: The photo shows the arrangement of the sepals and petals. Two sepals are joined together as to appear as one - the lower. The third is dorsal and forms a hood that is somewhat ovate in shape. These are pure white. When looking from behind the flower they are the parts that appear to be first on the flower stalk. The petals appear to be behind them. Two petals are horizontal, more elongate than the sepals, sometimes recurved, and are also pure white in color. The lower petal forms an inflated lip, or pouch, or slipper which is about 2 inches long. Note the hair on the white sepals and petals and flower stalk.

Sepals

Below: Earliest blooms in modern times in 2012, opening by May 28 thanks to the very early spring. Note the green bract just behind the flower slightly back on the stalk.

Showy Lady's-slipper Showy Lady's-slipper

Below - Historic photo: A large clump of Showy Lady's-slipper in the Woodland Garden on June 10, 1955. Photo from a Kodachrome slide taken by Martha Crone. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society, Martha Crone Collection

Historic Showy Lady's-slipper photo

Below: Another image from 2008

Showy Lady's-slipper
group of flowers

Notes:

Notes: This plant is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on Sept. 6, 1907. She used one of the older names of that time, Cypripedium spectabile which has now been reclassified into C. reginae. It also has been planted in the Garden many times. Eloise Butler's records show that she obtained plants of this species on July 9, 1912; June 20, 1913; and again on June 30, 1917 (2 clumps) from a "meadow off Western Ave" (now Glenwood Ave near Russell); 3 clumps (17 stalks) on July 4, 1917 from a bog off Western Ave. More plants in 1918. Martha Crone was also a prolific planter of the species, adding plants in 1941, '45, '46, '47, '48, '49, '50, '55, and '56. Ken Avery planted it in 1965 Garden Curator Susan Wilkins has planted it several times with rescued plants, most recently in 2012 (see article about that listed below). It is native to Minnesota from the SE to the NE and NW where there are swamps and bogs.

Showy-lady's-slipper is found in North America from Saskatchewan eastward in Canada and in the eastern half of the U.S. but only south as fas as Tennessee and the Carolinas. In Minnesota it has been found in over 2/3rds of the state, with the drier SW section excepted. There are six Cypripediums found in Minnesota: C. reginae, Showy Lady-s-slipper; C. acaule, Stem-less Lady-slipper (or Moccasin flower); C x andrewsii, Andrews's Lady-slipper; C. arietinum, Ram's head Lady-slipper; C. candidum, White Lady's-slipper; and C. parviflorum, Greater Yellow Lady's-slipper.

These plants bloom usually around the a week centering on June 10th. There are a number of clumps of the plant and the bloom time can be slightly different. Former curator wrote that Lady's-slippers bloom in May, "except the Showy --- which waits until the middle of June to hold the stage alone. To have missed its flowering season in the Garden seems almost to lose part of summer" . In 2008 the bloom was not until June 15 due to the later spring season. Eloise Butler noted that the bloom was not until June 18th in 1930 and Martha Crone reported June 21st in 1936 and the latest date known of June 28 in 1945. It would be rare for a bloom date before June 1st for plants in the Garden, in fact former Gardner Ken Avery recorded that only once in all his years as gardener, in 1977, did the plant bloom in May. However, in 2012 it bloomed on May 28!

Legend - A Chippewa brave had a beautiful sister who always wanted to go along on hunting trips with him. He always refused and if she followed he would send her back. At last, as he was leaving on a lengthy trip, she hid on the trail until he was out of sight, then she followed. In the woods she became lost and could not find her way back. When her brother returned, he and the village set out on a search for her. Villagers started fires to send smoke signals, but a strong wind fanned the flames into the woods and burned a large area, including where the maiden was lost.

When spring came and the snow melted the people found a new flower of pink and white on the hill side, shaped like a shoe or moccasin. The flowers led in a path into to the woods where the remains of the maiden were found. Where ever she had stepped, a flower had formed and they have continued to bloom since.

Two articles have been published by The Friends on the Showy Lady's-slipper in the Garden. Both are found in the Archive - educational section: Orchids in the Garden by Cary George and Cherishing Orchids, an Eloise Butler Legacy by Susan Wilkins. Garden Curator Susan Wilkins has also provided information on several rescue missions in Northern Minnesota. (Article)

Eloise Butler wrote: "The greatest prize of the swamp is our state flower, the showy Cypripedium, the pink and white Lady’s-slipper, a member of the orchid family. No flower, wild or cultivated, is more magnificent than this. The plant is the tallest of the genus and has the broadest leaves and the largest and most beautifully tinted flowers, often bearing two on one stalk. Only North American Indian ladies wear slippers of this style, and the precise always call them moccasins. Goddesses, also, must have approved of this kind of footgear, for the scientific name, Cypripedium, means Venus’ boskin." Published June 18, 1911, Sunday Minneapolis Tribune

Former curator Martha Crone wrote of the plant: "The largest and most showy of all our native orchids it is considered the Queen Orchid of America. The pure white sepals and petals, and the white rose-striped lip, spotted with purple on the inside, makes this orchid just as exquisite as that of its tropical relative. The seeds of these orchids are the smallest seeds known, dustlike or microscopic in size. They contain no endosperm. This lack of concentrated food for the use of the germinating seedling makes seed germination extremely difficult. Orchid seeds will not germinate and grow into seedlings unless the fungi mycorrhiza is present in the humus. This explains the rarity of most species and helps us to understand why orchids should be protected from needless destruction." published in the Fringed Gentian™, Vol. 4 #3, July 1956.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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