Friday, June 01, 2007

Return of the Lady Slipper

Another year since I started counting them (or at least since they were being counted for me) has ticked by. In the last seven years, I've been noticing the brief annual appearance of a somewhat rare flower on my property around the same time as my birthday. In the past, I haven't given the flower much notice, but this year, I took a moment to find out a little bit more about it. It is an orchid by the name of Cypripedium acaule or more commonly known as a Lady Slipper.

I see maybe one or two of these each year in about the same location, near a large hemlock tree. It turns out that in Nova Scotia, Illinois and Tennessee, the flower is considered endangered. It apparently is extremely difficult to cultivate, and transplanting the flower is rarely successful.

Aside from the obvious pink, shoe-like appearance of the flower petals, I wondered how the Lady Slipper got its name. With a little bit of digging, it turns out that the Lady Slipper has a very interesting story not only about itself, but about the people who tell its story. (I encourage you to follow some of the links I've provided in this article.)

In Native American (Ojibwa) folklore, Lady Slippers are said to have spawned after a brave young girl, trying to save her village from plague, walked far across difficult wintery terrain in her deer moccasins to obtain medicinal herbs from a far-away settlement. As the young girl made the long and hard journey back to her village, she lost her moccasins in the ice and snow and finished the journey barefooted, trailing her bloody footprints behind along the way. The following spring, and each spring thereafter, the moccasin-shaped Lady Slippers appear in the woods where the little girl's blood had settled in the ground, as a tiny reminders of her bravery and how she saved her village.

I have to wonder how many other stories dot the landscape around us that we know nothing about.