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Lady slippers, such as this one along state Highway 11 in northern Minnesota, are the state flowers of Minnesota. In 1990, Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 81 miles of Highway 11 a Minnesota Wildflower Route because of the thousands of lady slippers growing alongside the roadway.

In full bloom

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In full bloom
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Most people have seen a pink-and-white lady slipper and know it's the state flower. But does anyone know how, when and why it got that distinction?

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In a Feb. 4, 1893 resolution that appears in the Senate Journal, a resolution was made to designate the lady slipper or moccasin, or Cypripedium calceolus, as the state flower. Problem was, it didn't actually grow in Minnesota.

A Feb. 2, 1902, issue of the Minneapolis Tribune ran the headline "State flower called fake."

According to www.ladyslipperscenicbyway.org, the tale goes that after the ladies of Saint Anthony Study Circle of Minneapolis made it public to the Minneapolis Tribune that the flowers didn't even grow in Minnesota, "the legislature, embarrassed by the publicity, moved quickly to correct the situation."

So, on Feb. 19, 1902, again appearing in the Senate Journal, the resolution was corrected by replacing "Cypripedium calceolus" with "Cypripedium reginae," solving the problem.

On April 25, 1925, the Minnesota Legislature passed a law saying that no one was allowed to pick the lady slipper, protecting the rare flower by law.

One of the state's rarest wildflowers, lady slippers can be seen in ditches along the road, mainly in swampy areas. The plant can take four to 16 years to produce its first flower, and it can live for many years, some reports of 50 to 100 years. Now is the time to see them in full bloom.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, the state has been regulating the collection and commercial sale of lady slippers. The pink-and-white flower (or "showy") is just one of 43 orchid species found in Minnesota.

"In its first year, this orchid grows only as tall as a pencil point," the site says. "Each year, the lady 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."

It's because of illegal picking, wetland damage and roadside spraying the flower is considered rare.

Because of its popularity, there are many destinations within the state named for the delicate flower.

In 1990, Gov. Rudy Perpich declared 81 miles of Highway 11 a Minnesota Wildflower Route because of the abundance of lady slippers growing alongside the roadway.

Also, the Lady Slipper Scenic Byway is 28 miles long, following County Road 39 from Blackduck to Highway 2 east of Cass Lake.

While there isn't a designation in Becker County, the ditches along Highway 34 from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids are filled with them. Not that they can't be spotted here and there in many other areas though, too.

"Anywhere along Highway 34," Becker County Parks and Rec Administrator Chip Lohmeier said is a good place to spot some. "Out by Snellman, they are prolific along there."

"Our No. 1 question is 'are they blooming yet?'" Itasca State Park Naturalist Connie Cox said. "People like to come out and photograph them."

Most people simply ask about the lady slippers, not realizing that there are several different species of the orchids in the state park. Those varieties get overshadowed by their more "showy" cousin, Cox said.

At Itasca, she said she tells people to count on them blooming around Father's Day, give or take a week.

Traffic and people numbers in the park noticeably increase when the slippers are blooming. Lady slippers and large white trillium -- which bloom mid-May through Memorial Day -- are the two most sought after blooms to view.

Cox warns though to stay on trails within the park when viewing the lady slippers because hikers could be standing on other, much smaller, orchids they didn't realize existed.

Between the DNR and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, there are many regulations for handling a lady slipper if one is going to be transplanted or sold. Permits are required for some actions. For more details, check out the websites for both agencies.

As its own defense though, the leaves of the lady slippers have minute hairs on them that if touched can cause a rash similar to poison ivy.

"Maybe it's the plant's way of saying, 'step back a little,'" Cox said.

The Tribune and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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