National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 6/Our State Flowers/The Moccasin Flower

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Our State Flowers[edit]

The Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule Ait.)[edit]


Cypripedium acaule Ait.

When Minnesota officially decreed, in 1893, that the moccasin flower should be its favorite, it led all the States in enacting such legislation, and it is the only Commonwealth which has selected a member of the orchid family.

This orchid loves the deep wood and seeks a rocky, sandy place, usually as remote as possible from human habitation. Once the commonest of orchids, now it is one of the rarest. The friend of the moccasin flower who said that it “is generally and destructively appreciated” accurately sized up the situation.

We have heard much about prize-fighters being overtrained and extinct mammals being overspecialized, and now it has been said that the moccasin flower is overorganized. It is preëminently a flower that believes in the doctrine of cross-fertilization, and therefore has developed so complex a system of protecting its stigmas and anthers from self-fertilization that it often defeats its own ends and must rely on root propagation.

In order to insure itself the cross-fertilization it demands, the stamens are placed back of the pistil in such a position that the pollen cannot be transferred except by outside agencies. The open end of the pouch is nearly closed with a singular, broad, scoop-shaped, sterile anther which shields the fertile anthers and stigma. The flower is so arranged that the bee which applies for a cup of nectar must come inside and do a little crowding to get room enough to stand. When the delightful draught is quaffed and the winged beggar turns to leave, it is confronted with a straight and narrow way out, and before the open can be reached our bee must squeeze under a receptive stigma covered with sticky hairs which comb the pollen grains from the fuzzy back of the visitor. But still the guest has not satisfied the flower's bill. It must carry pollen to some other flower. And so, working its way out, the bee has to creep under an anther that is placed almost across its path, getting a coating of pollen as it passes to take the place of that combed out by the pistil.

It is a short stay that the blossoms of the moccasin flower make in their annual visit to the woods. They come in May and say farewell in June. It gladdens some of the Canadian woods, reaches as far south as North Carolina, and makes Minnesota its westernmost home.

Source: —, ed. (June 1917), “Our State Flowers: The Floral Emblems Chosen by the Commonwealths”, The National Geographic Magazine 31(6): 488. (Illustration from page 502.)