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State officials concerned about lady-slipper thefts

Minnesota's state flower, the showy lady-slipper, hass been attracting thieves, who dig up the flowers on public lands. It's against the law, and probably won't yield transplants that grow, experts say, because the wild orchid needs such special conditions to grow.

Minnesota's state flower, the showy lady-slipper, can't help drawing attention.

But lately, the beautiful wild orchid -- pink and white with a distinctive pouch-like shape -- has been attracting thieves.

The theft of plants from public lands is a crime -- one that's expanding nationwide. In southern Minnesota, the Brown County sheriff's office is investigating the recent theft of a clump of lady-slippers on public land near New Ulm.

Frank Brunner, who lives in the neighborhood where the theft occurred about a month ago, said he saw a man and woman in a car on a gravel road near his house. The middle-aged woman got out, walked into the ditch and emerged with a clump of uprooted lady- slippers, Brunner said.

"I hollered at her and I said, 'Hey you can't pick them, those are state flowers!'" Brunner recalled. "And away they went. Seemed like it never fazed her."

Lady-slippers need the right mix of soil, sunshine and moisture to survive, and experts say it's nearly impossible to successfully transplant them.

"It's really kind of pointless to take these out and think that you can plant these in your garden and they'll grow," said Bob Beck, a regional naturalist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "They probably won't. You're just condemning them to death."

Thefts of the lady-slipper happen across the state. Bryce Anderson of the DNR said he noticed the problem when he was stationed at Itasca State Park, one of Minnesota's most popular parks.

"Maybe once every two years we might find a hole where we knew there were some lady-slippers that had been dug up and taken away," he said.