Eloise Butler images

Finding the White Cypripedium

by Eloise Butler, from Annals of the Wild Life Reserve, May 1914

[In brackets within the text, have been added the necessary common name or scientific name, that she did not use in her article. Nomenclature is based on the latest published information from Flora of North America (Ref.#W7) and the Checklist of the Vascular Flora of Minnesota (Ref.#28C).]

White Lady's-slipper
White Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium candidum. Photo ©Derek Anderson, Wisconsin Flora.

I had but one clump of white Cypripedium in my wild garden and that had been given to me. What I bought from eastern florists refused to grow. This clump has blossomed for three years in succession, but this spring I had but one blossom because some vandal had picked the flowers the year before. I find that when the flowers of Cypripediums and trilliums are picked that they do not flower the following year. If any blossoms appear they are due to leafy stems that were infertile or without flowers. For, as you know, if the leaves - the food manufacturers - are picked off, no more food is stored up in the roots below for next year’s growth.

Showy Beardtongue
Large-flowered Pentstemon (Showy Beardtongue), Penstemon grandiflorus. Photo ©G. D. Bebeau

The white Cypripedium is local. I had been told of various places where it grew profusely, but failed to find them. A friend ‘phoned me a few days ago that she had spotted them several miles out of town. So we planned to “go for” them. We had to get up at five o’clock in order to make the train. When we left the train we expected to be met by another friend who was to drive us to the place to be explored several miles farther away. But no one was there. It had rained heavily the night before and was not yet clear so that no one dreamed that we would make the venture.

White Camas
White Camass, Zigadenus elegans Photo ©Aaron Carlson, Wisconsin Flora.

Should we take the next train home? No, never! We kilted our skirts and weighted with impediments, trudged through the wet grass some three miles across the country until we found a farmer who was willing to take us where we were bound to go. We had a pair of stout farm horses and a long heavy truck, big enough and to spare. The Tradescantia [Spiderwort] was out in full force, set off by great clumps of orange puccoon, Lithospermum gmelini [this is an older name, most likely a variety of Lithospermum caroliniense that is native to Minnesota]. Now and then we passed patches of the strikingly beautiful large-flowered Pentstemon [Penstemon grandiflorus]. We drove as far as we could. Then we had to walk a long distance through meadows to reach our plants. It did not rain, and the overcast sky was the ideal condition for such a tramp. The meadows were full of yellow Cypripedium, both the large [Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens] and the small [Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin] varieties, and scores of the showy Cypripedium [Cypripedium reginae] in bud. We came upon large expanses of Castilleja coccinea [Scarlet Indian Paintbrush] with heavy heads of luxuriant scarlet bloom, with a few yellow ones by way of contrast. Never had we seen them in such magnificent profusion.

Seneca Snakeroot
Seneca Snake Root, Polygala senega. Photo ©Aaron Carlson, Wisconsin Flora.

The haunt of the white Cypripediums was an open meadow full of hummocks of tufted grasses and sedges surrounded by deep pools of water. The flowers grew on the hummocks and were hard to spade on account of the intertwined and matted roots of the sedges. In drier meadows we found Polygala senega [Seneca Snake Root], Valeriana edulis [Tobacco root] just going out of blossom, and zygadene [Zigadenus elegans - white camass] and Turk’s-cap and wood lilies in bud. On an unwooded hill was a spring surrounded by pitcher plants in full flower and all the different Cypripediums again.

I had never seen pitcher plants in such a situation before. The soil was peculiar -- a fine gray colored clay, seemingly intermixed with sand. We were enthusiastic over our “finds.” My friend said, “California can’t offer anything equal to this!”

We packed our treasures in gunny sacks and had no difficulty in getting them home, as we were met by autos at the other end of the line.

More information and photos on some of these plants can be found under these links:
Showy Lady's-slipper

Large Flowered Penstemon

Yellow Lady's-slipper (large flowered)

Yellow Lady's-slipper (small flowered)