Test your state knowledge: What's the official state flower of Minnesota?
Hints: It's pink, white, red and green.
It's also the largest and most-impressive of the state's 43 native orchid species.
Answer: the showy lady's slipper.
Found in northern and north-central Minnesota, the flower grows wild in coniferous swamps and bogs, hardwood swamps, and even in moist roadside ditches.
The lady's slipper grows from the top of a leafy stem that may reach 3 feet. Petals and petal-like sepals are pure white, and the 2-inch long pouch is pink and white.
The flower takes time to produce a blossom. In fact, about 15 years. When a seed germinates, the plant is pencil-point sized. A certain fungus must be present for growth. The fungus, which lives in the roots of the orchid, delivers the elements of the soil to the plant. The orchid is without rootlets and cannot absorb food or water. If left undisturbed, the plant will continue to grow and produce more stems. A large clump seen in a cedar swamp may be 100 years old or older. This species has been protected by Minnesota law since 1925.
You might see the flower in bloom at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum or Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in far west Minneapolis within the next week. It will be blooming in areas like Lake Bemidji State Park about two weeks later.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.