A 'showy' roadside surprise
For nearly a quarter century, Bill Sazama has mowed the Highway 10 roadside from Perham to New York Mills, but June 29, 2009, was the first time he spotted Minnesota's state flower in his path.
Alas, such beauty is fleeting. By about July 1, the petals of the showy lady's slipper were already beginning to dry to a dull brown.
"I had never seen them there before," said Sazama, a 30-year Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who has trimmed the grass on that ten mile stretch for at least 23 years. "They don't bloom every year. But it could be the wet weather, the late spring and the conditions this year."
There were three patches of the pink and white showy lady's slipper blooming on the stretch of highway--the largest just west of New York Mills. The flowers are located in a low-lying area, a distance from the road, said Sazama, so they weren't easily visible.
The showy lady's slipper is Minnesota's state flower. Since 1925, the state has regulated the collection and commercial sale of this species. The showy lady's slipper is one of 43 orchid species that grow in Minnesota. Many people consider it the most beautiful flower in the state.
The yellow lady's slipper is more common along Highway 10, Sazama noted, adding that they seem to bloom near-annually. But the pink lady's slippers were indeed a surprise.
Though he's not a serious gardener himself, he has always had an appreciation for plant life.
"Well, I'm not a flower child," laughed Sazama, "but I've always liked wildflowers. Unfortunately, I have to mow over some of them along the road."
As far as the pink lady's slippers, he will be revising his mowing pattern in the future.
"I'll be keeping my eyes open. Now that I know that they're there, I'll be doing it a little differently," said Sazama.
About Minnesota's state flower (Cypripedium reginae)
Minnesota's state flower is a native perennial, that grows about two feet tall in swamps and drainage areas. Flowers have a large white and pink pouch with narrow, white petals.
The scientific name means "queen's slipper."
The lady's slipper flowers from early June to mid-July. It flowers best in bright sunlight, although it will grow in semi-shaded areas. In its first year, this orchid grows only as tall as a pencil point. 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.
Habitat and range
The lady's slipper grows in spruce and tamarack bogs, swamps, wet meadows, wet prairies, and cool, damp woods. It may be found anywhere in Minnesota where these habitats exist.
Population and management
The lady's slipper is uncommon in Minnesota. Population can be hurt by wetland drainage, road construction, tree cuttings, and illegal picking and uprooting. In addition, herbicides used on roadside areas can kill these plants. The best management is to protect the lady's slipper's native habitat.