Friday Flora: State Symbols

Within the past few days, I have seen multiple reports of the demise of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) – the official State Butterfly of Minnesota. Multiple local media sources have reported recently that extreme weather conditions in the south have lead to a major die-off of the monarch population this year. High temperatures, land development, and use of agricultural chemicals have all had a profound effect on the population of milkweed, which is important to monarchs, as it is the only plant upon which the butterflies will deposit their eggs.

The Monarch reports remind me of another official state symbol – our state flower, the Showy (pink and white) Lady’s Slipper, and efforts undertaken to conserve it. Due to its rarity, the Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), a member of the orchid family, is a protected wildflower in Minnesota.

Minnesota Statutes 2003, Chapter 18H.18 observes for the conservation of certain wildflowers, among them species of Orchidaceae (orchids). Distribution of any orchid species, “which have been collected in any manner from any public or private property without the written permission of the property owner and written authorization from the commissioner,” is prohibited. Read Chapter 18H8.18 to gain a sense of the regulation associated with the protection of wildflowers in Minnesota. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has also produced an informational article that further educates upon the statute to address issues of transplanting if and when Lady’s Slippers are found near areas of construction.

The former Department of Botany (today known as the Department of Plant Biology) at the University of Minnesota documented the presence of Lady’s Slippers in Minnesota in 1900. Multiple photographs were then taken of variations of Cypripedium by department photographer C.J. Hibbard. These images will soon be accessible online and will help to preserve the legacy of our symbolic state flower. Here are some examples from the botanical photograph collection:

1. Cypripedium, lady slipper, Long Meadow

2. Cypripedium hirsutum, Lady’s Slipper, Lake Minnetonka

3. Cypripedium hirsutum, Lady’s Slipper, Lake Minnetonka

* Cypripedium hirsutum is the genus and species name written on the back of the actual mounted photographs, and what is recorded in the associated photograph ledger. This species is not identified in the USDA Plants Database. As plant names have changed since 1900, Cypripedium hirsutum is likely an older name (synonym) to a currently accepted scientific name for this species. If you know what it is, please help and leave a comment!

4. Cypripedium reginae, Showy Lady’s Slipper, Glenwood

5. Cypripedium reginae, Showy Lady’s Slipper, Glenwood

Did you know that Minnesota also has a state muffin, mushroom, and drink (milk)? Review the Minnesota State Government State Symbols Fact Sheet for more insight into the symbols that “capture the essence of the state.”