What happened: A group “empowered to elect for Minnesota a state flower,” as the Tribune phrased it, picked the wild lady slipper.
When: Dec. 1, 1892.
The fallout: The Tribune’s editorial page was outraged — not only with the choice but also with the selection process.
“Strange to say, the pond lily, pre-eminently the most beautiful and popular, as well as one of the most common wildflowers in Minnesota, and decidedly the most characteristic flower of this lake park region of the continent, was left out of the consideration altogether.”
The motivation behind designating a state flower was to have a floral representative of Minnesota at the World’s Fair, which was being held the summer of 1893 in Chicago. Among the flowers the committee reportedly considered were the aster and the India pink, as well as the wild rose and the corn flower. There is no mention of the pond lily even entering into the conversation, an oversight that led the editorial board to point out that its prevalence far outpaced that of the other contenders.
“Aside from the above sufficient reason,” the editorial went on, “the pond lily is itself a noble flower. What other wild flower in the state is more stately, beautiful, or more sought after, despite its abundance?”
The Tribune “respectfully petitioned” for the vote to be reconsidered and voiced its support for “the queenly, white and fragrant lily, so much more representative of Minnesota than the sickly moccasin flower of the swamps.” There was not a second vote, but that didn’t mean the matter was resolved.
On second thought: Little is known about the members of the flower-naming committee other than the fact that they were described as “well connected.” One thing is clear in retrospect, however — they likely weren’t botanists. A decade later, a group known as the St. Anthony Study Circle pointed out that the wild lady slipper (Cypripedeum calceolus; also known as the yellow lady slipper) was not native to the state. In 1902, the Legislature passed a resolution tweaking the name of the state flower to Cypripedium reginae, the pink and white lady slipper (sometimes called the showy lady slipper).
Apparently, lawmakers weren’t in any hurry to make the new designation official, lest someone come up with a reason why it should be changed yet again. The showy lady slipper’s designation as the state flower was not finalized in law until 1967.