By Joann M. Ringelstetter
For the past twelve years, I’ve been on a fruitless search for Yellow Lady’s Slippers, which the previous owner told me grew in the woods surrounding my home. According to the USDA Forest Service, this flower is found “from the eastern United States and Canada west to the Rocky Mountains and north to Yukon and Alaska.”
The Yellow Lady’s Slipper is a member of the Orchid family and it “grows in a variety of habitats from shady, damp forest understory of mixed deciduous and coniferous forests to open meadows and along streams.” However, it didn’t seem to be growing in the understory near my home, in spite of what the previous owner had said.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the white flowers of the Bloodroot plant, whose common name refers to the red juice of the underground stem that was used by Native Americans as a dye. Bloodroot blooms briefly and is one of the earliest to appear in the spring.
As I write this, I can see Wild Geraniums growing at the edge of the woods. These beautiful light purple flowers bloom for several weeks from late spring to early summer.
Early this spring, I discovered another patch of Dutchman’s Breeches in my woods that I didn’t know existed. This plant gets its name from its dangling flowers that look like little upside-down pantaloons.
Up the hill in the woods behind my house, there is a large patch of Red Trillium, which are also called Stinking Benjamin due to their unpleasant odor. I photographed snow on Red Trillium in early May, 2004.
The woods is also full of large, beautiful Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants. Their large green flowers are cylindrical and hooded, with brown stripes.
I’ve walked my woods every spring for the past twelve years, but I never came across any Yellow Lady’s Slippers….until a week ago. I was patrolling the woods for invasive garlic mustard plants and, after walking almost half of the property, I discovered one lone Yellow Lady’s Slipper.
I had bent down to pull some garlic mustard and when I looked up, a small spot of bright yellow caught my eye. I’m sure my mouth dropped open as I marveled at finding this beautiful elusive flower that I had looked for every spring for the past twelve years.
There is an old Ojibwa legend about a woman who travels to the next village in the snow to get medicine for the people of her village who are suffering from a terrible disease. The next morning, the villagers hear her cries and find her collapsed in the snow, her feet bloody and frostbitten, but with the life-saving medicine in her bundle. The men carry her back to the village and wrap her feet in warm deerskins. When she dies, the deerskin wrappings become little yellow flowers called Lady’s Slippers.
I hope you have a chance to see this beautiful little flower some spring day when you least expect it.