When it comes to lady’s slippers, all Minnesotans know the state flower–the Showy Lady’s Slipper. Many are familiar with the Yellow, and those up north are more likely to see the Pink (also known as Stemless Lady’s Slipper, or Moccasin Flower). But there are more than just those.
For someone used to the robust Showy Lady’s Slippers, the Small Whites seem impossibly small and delicate. Though not the smallest lady’s slipper in Minnesota–that honor goes to the very rare Ram’s Head Lady’s Slipper–they are half the size of the more common Showy, Yellow, and Pink Lady’s Slippers. They are also the only lady’s slipper native to the prairie and not the woodland. Apparently Minnesota’s tallgrass prairie–the western portion of the state–was once a sea of white blossoms every spring when they came into bloom. Now most of that prairie is farmland and pasture, with very little natural prairie left. And, of course, like all lady’s slippers, the Small Whites require very specific fungus in the soil to survive, making them basically impossible to transplant.What was once a common prairie plant is now a species of “Special Concern” on the Minnesota DNR’s Rare Species list. And yet, as rare as it is–with an estimation of over 95% of the original population lost to agriculture–Minnesota continues to have the greatest population of the plant in the world and is estimated to have more than all the other states and Canadian provinces combined.
So while the Small White Lady’s Slipper may not be the the state flower of Minnesota, Minnesota is definitely the state of the Small White Lady’s Slipper.