It’s time Minnesotans did something about their legislature; the 1902 legislature. That year our representatives in St. Paul made the showy pink and white lady slipper our state flower.

The north country’s largest orchid may not have been the wisest choice.

Legislators on Canada’s Prince Edward Island refused the suggestion to make it their provincial flower; it was too rare. Why couldn’t the Minnesota legislature choose a flower easier to see? The sunflower, for instance. But the Minnesota legislators were smitten by the lady’s pretty face.

She is indeed showy. Her large white and pink moccasin shaped flower, sometimes called the queen’s slipper, tops a one- to three-foot stem. The lance-shaped leaves at the base of the plant are long.

Portions of southwestern Minnesota are not in the range of the flower and many of the state’s citizens have not seen the increasingly rare state flower. One reason is that, like any queen, she is fussy. She will grow in sun or shade but likes the unusual combination of wet, well-drained and alkaline soil. The soil must have, for the plants to absorb nutrients, mycorrhizal fungus.

Recognizing its scarcity, the 1925 legislature made it illegal to pick it or dig the orchid up. Unfortunately, they did not take measures to protect its habitat. Habit destruction has been a major reason for the lady slipper’s increased scarcity.

Strangely, roadside habitat can be a prime location for the big orchid. Motorists have discovered lady slippers in ditches in many parts of Minnesota. Last summer, observant highway workers spotted a colony in the ditch of State Highway 11, near Baudette. The road was scheduled for work in 2008 so with help from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation, a group of Iowa church women transplanted the orchids to a safe location in Lake Bemidji State Park.

Flowers in Douglas County were not so fortunate. The power company’s brush hog may have destroyed most of them. In Todd County a bulldozer sliced away all but a few plants when the road was widened. It’s a shame to destroy a lady slipper with a bulldozer; the beautiful plant could be as much as 100 years old.

During this Minnesota sesquicentennial year, drivers of the state’s back roads could seek out roadside orchids and, like the Iowa ladies, adopt and protect them. In that way we could assist the 1902 legislature.