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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)


A plant found only in the eastern third of our state, the rare white lady's slipper once ranged east to New York, and south to Missouri. The plant is listed as "threatened" by the North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and definitely should be protected.

The reason white lady's slipper is now rare is loss of habitat. The plant prefers rich moist prairies that typify what is now the best cropland in the Red River Valley. The plant has also been found in similar soils as far west as the Devil's Lake area.

White lady's slipper is a 10-inch-tall perennial from fibrous roots. One, or rarely two, flowers form on each plant. The white "slipper," which is actually the lip of a petal, is about 3/4 inch long. The other two petals are greenish with lavender veins, pointed, and about 2 inches long. Leaves are smooth, and slightly overtop the flowers. Fruit is an ellipsoid capsule about 1 inch long.

The best place to find this plant in North Dakota is in moist prairie meadows that have been mowed or burned the previous year. The plant does not tolerate heavy grazing, probably because the roots would be easily damaged by trampling in the soft, waterlogged soils that the plant prefers. The dried roots of some of the yellow-flowered lady's slippers are used medicinally.

White lady's slipper is a member of the cosmopolitan orchid family (Orchidaceae), the name derived from the Greek orchis, "a testicle," in allusion to the round tubers found on some species. The orchid family is the largest in the world, with about 200,000 known species. Most orchids depend on soil fungi for part of their food. The generic name was compounded from the Latin Cypris, "Venus," and pedilon, "shoe." The specific epithet candidum means "white" in botanical Latin. White lady's slipper was described for science by the pioneer Pennsylvania botanist-theologian Reverend Gotthilf Muehlenberg (1753-1815).

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