Lady Slippers and Moccasin Flowers

Photo by Tracey Monroe

With warmer weather and more daylight, you might be looking for reasons (or excuses) to get out of the house. Although many restrictions are still in place, going for a walk is always a safe option. When you have had enough of circling the neighborhood, perhaps it’s time to seek out one of the many walking trails around the Cape.

It’s just getting warm enough to enjoy the local species of flowers starting to bloom across the Cape, including our own native orchid!

Although most species of orchids prefer tropical climates, we have a variety in the Northeast that prefers wooded areas and is hearty enough to survive our cold New England winters: Cypripedium acaule. You probably know it by its common name, the pink Lady Slipper, or moccasin flower.

Although it is the state flower of New Hampshire, we have a healthy population of these pink beauties here on the Cape.

Lady Slippers have a distinct leafless stem with a beautiful bright pink flower which resembles a slipper or moccasin. It may not seem like a creative way to name a flower, but there is a little folklore that goes along with these strong-willed flowers.

According to Native American stories, during a particularly cold winter, many people had fallen ill. The medicine the tribe needed was a long journey through the snow and ice to the next village. Many of the men were ill and could not make the journey, so one of the women snuck out during the night to fetch the medicine.

She made it to the next village and began her return trip with the valuable medicine. The cold snow and ice became almost too much for this young woman to bear. As she neared home, she called out in the woods for help when she could no longer walk. Members from her village came to her rescue and brought her and the medicine back to the village, saving her life and the lives of those who had fallen ill.

It is said that every step she took through the snow is marked with a moccasin flower so no one forgets her strength and bravery.

(Source: Ojibwe folklore)


If you see one of these beautiful flowers, please don’t pick them! It takes several years for these flowers to grow from seedling to maturity, and they do not grow back or survive transplanting. They are often considered “off-limits” and listed as “special concern.” If left alone, these orchids can live up to 20 years!


Aside from their beauty and a symbol of strength and bravery, Lady Slippers were once used as a remedy for nervousness, tooth pain, and muscle spasms. In fact, centuries ago, parts of the plant were used as a substitute for valerian root.


Want to learn more? Visit the US Forest Service website

Looking for places to walk or hike? Click HERE 


About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.
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Hyannis, MA 02601
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