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Showy lady's slippers -- Minnesota's state flower -- are coming into bloom across northern Minnesota

A showy lady's slipper reaches full bloom along the edge of a roadside in Roseau County. Click on the image to see the entire photo. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
A cluster of showy lady's slippers -- some already in full bloom -- others not quite emerging, brighten a roadside Sunday afternoon along a road less traveled in Roseau County of northwest Minnesota. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)2 / 2

One of the many great things about summer in the Northland -- and certainly among the most colorful -- is the emergence of the showy lady’s slipper, Minnesota’s state flower.

Also known by some as pink lady slippers -- for obvious reasons -- showy lady slippers are beginning to bloom, and by the looks of it, this is going to be another good summer for the wild orchids.

The window of opportunity to see them isn’t open very long, but the striking flowers, which are larger than the more common yellow lady slippers,  should be in bloom for at least a couple more weeks, if not more.

Just make sure to look and not touch. Picking or uprooting pink lady slippers is illegal in Minnesota, and touching the leaves can produce a rash in some people, the Department of Natural Resources says on its website.

Three of us took a drive Sunday afternoon along a road less traveled in Roseau County of northwest Minnesota to see if the showy lady slippers had yet made an appearance.

They had -- and they were spectacular. Resplendent also would be an apt word to describe the orchids we saw Sunday afternoon.

According to the DNR website, the showy lady’s slipper “grows in spruce and tamarack bogs, swamps, wet meadows, wet prairies, and cool, damp woods.”

Those are the kinds of areas we found them Sunday afternoon.

Now through mid-July is peak time for viewing showy lady’s slippers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, several northwest Minnesota counties, including Kittson, Roseau, Polk and Beltrami, are good locations for seeing showy lady’s slippers, as is Itasca State Park. They’re considered uncommon everywhere in Minnesota, according to the DNR, and even less common in North Dakota.

The USDA website lists Pembina, Benson, Eddy and Ransom counties as places where showy lady’s slipper sightings have occurred in North Dakota, but given the flowers’ preference for damp, boggy cover, they’re definitely less common west of the Red River.

A few other showy tidbits from the DNR website:

  • Showy lady’s slippers flower best in bright sunlight, although they will grow in semi-shaded areas.
  • In its first year, a showy lady’s slipper 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. Showy lady’s slippers have a long life span; some may be 100 years old.
  • Disturbances such as wetland drainage, road construction, tree cuttings and illegal picking and planting all can be harmful.
  • The collection and commercial sale of showy lady’s slippers in Minnesota has been regulated since 1925.

More information on showy lady’s slippers is available here and here.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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