Eloise Butler

The Writings of Eloise Butler

Painted Cup Notable among Wild Flowers Found near Minneapolis; Bog-trotter’s Zeal Repaid by Orchids and Other Swamp Blossoms

Published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune June 18, 1911

[Note: To facilitate identification of plants, we have taken the liberty of adding the information that is within brackets and also all the botanical names have been put into italics. The language of Eloise's day is left as written. Additional notes at the bottom of the page.]

Indian Paintbrush
Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea. Photo ©Merel R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

An account of the notable wild flowers of Minneapolis would be incomplete without some mention of the Painted Cup, Castilliea coccinea. [Now - Scarlet Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea]. In the latter part of May, the meadows favored by this plant are visions of delight. Painter’s brush is by far the better name for it, as only the tips of the floral leaves of the compact spike flame in scarlet, or, less frequently, in yellow, thus suggesting a brush dipped in the pigments of an artist’s palette. It is the leaves (bracts) among the flowers that are colored vividly. The tubular calyx has but a narrow rim of brightness and the slender, greenish corolla is, contrary to rule, the least conspicuous of all.

The reckless enthusiast now plunges wildly into mire and willingly pays toll to myriads of mosquitoes. He must needs be a bog-trotter in order to see the carnivorous plants and orchids found only in un-drained tamarack swamps. Imbedded in bog mass, whorls of curiously constructed, lurid-veined leaves, arched and hollow, and filled with water, greet his eyes. It is the pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea - a plant that lives partially on insects.

Pitcher plant
Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea.

A fly seldom escapes from one of these leaf traps when she visits it for a sip of water. For, if she succeeds in crawling up the inner slippery surface, she will encounter a margin of stiff, downward pointing hairs that will hinder further progress. As the insects decay, they are absorbed. In this way the plants obtain the nitrogenous food, more or less necessary for all plants, as shown by the use of fertilizers.

But what is novel about the insectivorous plants is that they capture living insects. They can thereby get a living from poorer soil and with feebler roots than can other plants. The flower also has a striking appearance. The calyx is dark red purple. The fiddle-shaped petals of rich wine color are folded over a genuine umbrella - the stigma of the pistil, which not only serves the usual purpose of pollination, but also keeps the pollen and nectar dry - an umbrella in use long before man thought of making one.

Showy Lady's-slipper
Showy Lady's-slipper in the Woodland Garden, Cypripedium reginae Walter.

We have but one pitcher plant in this latitude. Another species is a native of the southern states, and still another of the Pacific coast. Others again are found in the old world and in the tropics. All these may be recognized by the pitcher leaf, but the plants vary considerably, for “nature repeats herself with a difference.” The southern species has a yellow flower; the pitcher of the Pacific states has an arching roof and a lurid, fishtail appendage; and some of the tropical pitchers are on vines, and are filled with digestive fluids, protected by motile lids that close automatically over the struggling captives.

The greatest prize of the swamp is our state flower, the showy Cypripedium, the pink and white Lady’s-slipper [The Showy Lady’s-slipper, Cypripedium reginae], 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.

White Lady's-slipper
Small White Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium candidum. Photo ©Derek Anderson, Wisconsin Flora

Six cypripediums are native to Minnesota - the Showy [Cypripedium reginae], the small white [(Cypripedium candidum], the two-leaved pink [(Cypripedium acaule also called Moccasin Flower or Stemless] and the small and rare Ram’s head cypripedium [Cypripedium arietinum]. All but the last named may be seen in their season in the wild garden in Glenwood park. The ram’s head is a comical little boskin, with two horns that readily suggest the popular name.

[She did not list the two varieties of the Yellow Lady’s-slipper [Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin and var. pubescens), but then wrote:] The photograph of the larger yellow cypripedium was taken in Dr. T. G. Lee's wild garden on the River road in Southeast Minneapolis. Here have been transported with patience and skill the charms of "the deep tangled wildwood." The fern in the background is the rare or local male fern, Aspidium filix-mas. The two slender petals of this moccasin flower look like the corkscrew ringlets of the old-time spinster.

Rams-head Lady's-slipper
Ram's head Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium arietinum. Photo by Martha Crone, June 9, 1954.
Yellow Lady=s-slipper var Makasin.
Yellow Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin.
moccasin flower
Moccasin Flower, Cypripedium acaule.

Yellow Widelip Twayblade
Yellow Widelip Orchid, Liparis loeselii. Photo ©R K Kupfer, Wisconsin Flora.

Of extreme interest are the twayblades, cousins of the cypripediums. They have been introduced into the wild garden in Glenwood park and have blossomed faithfully for two successive years. Two species are shown in this print growing side by side [note - we illustrate them separately]. The flowers are bits of fairy gossamer. In one species they are green [Liparis loeselii; the Yellow Wide-lip Orchid]; in the other [Liparis liliifolia; the Brown wide-lip Orchid] they are a trifle larger and of an indescribable shade of mauve. They belong to the genus Liparis. Another genus of twayblades is Listera, not yet represented in the wild garden. [Note; Listera convallarioides, Broadlipped Twayblade, and Listera cordata, Heart-leaf Twayblade, were added in later years, but are no longer extant.]

Large Twayblade
Brown Widelip Orchid, Liparis liliifolia. Photo ©Merle R. Black, Wisconsin Flora.

The tropics abound in orchids of bewildering forms and hues, many of them air plants; but we are grateful for those we have, although they are hidden for the most part in the cool recesses of the bog land. A tree in the tropics is a garden in itself, when covered with trailing ferns, orchids and other air plants. Some of these orchid flowers simulate gay butterflies in shape and coloring; one called the “flower of the Holy Ghost,” resembles a dove sitting on its nest.

The fantastic shapes are conformations to the insects that pollinate the flowers. For information on this fascinating subject, the student may be referred to Muller’s Fertilization of Flowers and William Hamilton Gibson’s Our Native Orchids.

Also, when floundering in the bogs, we come across the Wild Calla [Calla palustris], a flower just as lovely, though smaller, as the well-known cultivated calla imported from Africa. This species has a creeping stem and heart-shaped, glossy leaves. It belongs to the Arum family, which includes, as you may remember, the skunk cabbage and Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Like them, too, the showy part of the inflorescence is a large bract or spathe enwrapping a dense cluster of small flowers.

More information and photos on some of these plants can be found under these links:
Moccasin Flower

Showy Lady's-slipper

Yellow Lady's-slipper var. pubescens.

Yellow Lady's-slipper var. makasin

Wild Calla