New Hampshire's most enduring myth

ladyslipper4

The Pink Lady Slipper
Cypridedium Acaule

     This showy little flower grows 6 to 15 inches tall. It's bloom time is from April to July, and if you walk into the woods a bit you can see this flower in all it's glory.

     The myth is NOT that there IS a Pink Lady Slipper but, that once New Hampshire had many of these flowers. Through the carelessness of people they became so rare as to bring down a heavy fine for picking just one! It is an enduring myth and until this day most people believe that they are a forbidden flower. The truth is... there is no fine for picking them here in NH but, the fact that most New Hampshirites "believe" this story, is possibly why the flower thrives still.

     Other names it is known by are Moccasin flower and Whip-poorwill's Shoe. David Van Luven at the State Wildlife Department says, "Every spring I get about 30 calls on this flower" He goes on further to say that they are not considered "rare" they are actually common but, are listed on the "special concerns" list because of their difficulty in propagation and climate issues, they must be watched. Pink Lady Slippers are actually an Orchid that thrives under the right conditions but they don't handle the slightest degree of change well. They grow within a narrow parimeter of climate and soil. Cut, they don't hold up well and transplanted they have little chance of making it.

     So, where did the myth get started? Why do so many believe it? Well, as far as we've been able to determine New Hampshire has never had such a law... but, Massachusetts did and does... Paul Somers, Ph.D., State Botanist for Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, informed us that Massachusetts still has laws protecting lady slippers.

     At least two of the five species that grow in Massachusetts are considered endangered

    Cypripedium arietinum (Ram's Head Lady's Slipper)--Endangered
    Cypripedium calceolus var. parviflorum (Small Yellow Lady's Slipper)--Endangered.
    Cypripedium reginae (Showy Lady's Slipper)--Special Concern.

Two other types of Lady's Slipper, are not protected under the MESA law and regulations:

    Cypripedium acaule (Pink Lady's Slipper)
    Cypripedium pubescens (Large Yellow Lady's Slipper).

Mr. Somer's has informed us that," It should be pointed out, that all orchids have some protection in Massachusetts via an old law passed in 1935. It is titled an "Act to Protect All Wild Azaleas, Wild Orchids and Cardinal Flower". It reads as follows:

         "Chapter 266 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after Section 116, as appearing in the Tercentenary Edition, the following new section:--Section 116A. No person shall pull up or dig up the plant of a wild azalea, wild orchid or cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), or any part thereof, or injure any such plant or any part thereof except in so far as is reasonably necessary in procuring the flower therefrom, within the limits of any state highway or any other public way or place, or upon the land of another person without the written authority from him, and no person shall buy or sell, or offer or expose for sale, any such flower, or the whole of any part of the plant thereof, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe, that in procuring such flower or plant the foregoing provisions have been violated. Violation of any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than five dollars." Approved April 1, 1935.

     Mr. Somer's goes on to say, "This law, which applies to all native orchids, has been used to successfully prosecute at least one individual attempting to sell Pink Lady's Slippers in Massachusetts. In the one instance of which I am aware, the individual was fined $500, which suggests that he may have had 100 plants in his possession. There is a similar law that offers protection to trailing arbutus or mayflower, (Epigaea repens) the Massachusetts state flower."

     So, you see there was and is a law on Lady Slippers of all kinds in Massachusetts apparently their "truth" then became our NH "myth" and one that is of long standing. So, if you see a Pink Lady Slipper, or ANY Lady Slipper keep the Myth alive. Take a picture and leave the flower alone. Save them for another generation to enjoy.