Lady slippers are very difficult to pollinate. A bee that manages to navigate down the narrow opening to the pouch will be disappointed to find pollen but no nectar. The savvy bees look elsewhere for pollen but some bees give the lady slippers a few tries before giving up—just enough to pollinate a small percentage each year. The pollinated plants produce thousands of tiny seeds that are as small as dust and are dispersed by the wind. The seeds depend on wild soil fungi to germinate and grow which make them rare in the wild and almost impossible to domesticate. Another obstacle is that it takes 10 to 17 years before it matures enough to bloom for the first time.
While researching lady slippers, I learned of a folklore about an Ojibwe* girl named Aki who saved her village after most of the people came down with a horrible sickness. A well respected medicine woman who made life-saving medicine lived many miles away making it impossible for any sick person to make the journey. Although she was small for her age, Aki was a fast runner and bravely volunteered to make the trip. It took Aki many days to cross the frozen lake and find the medicine woman who lived deep in the forest. The journey back to her village was even more difficult when a blizzard hindered her progress and caused her to lose her moccasins in the deep snow but she never let go of the precious medicine. Aki barely made it back to her village before she collapsed. The medicine she brought saved her people and herself. That spring, on the exact spots where Aki had stepped with her bare feet on her perilous journey, lady slippers grew. The Ojibwe call the lady slippers “Moccasin Shoes.”
*The Ojibwe number approximately 320 thousand in the United States and 160 thousand in Canada today. They are known for their oral history of which this story is one