Cypripedium arietinum (Ram's-head Lady's-slipper)

Plant Info
Also known as: Ram's-head Moccasin Flower
Family:Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:part shade, shade; dry to moist forests, fens, cedar swamps
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:6 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular

[photo of flower] Small single (occasionally two) ½ to 1 inch flower atop a slender stem. The showy lower lip (the slipper) is inflated out horizontally with a conical extension descending from bottom. The slipper opening is white to yellow tinged and covered with silky hairs; under slipper is richly veined with purple, though an even rarer white form can be found. Lateral petals and sepals are alike, narrow, purplish-brown and may be slightly twisted. The upper sepal extends over the lip and is much larger and broader with more obvious striping. A single large, leaf-like, erect to curving bract sits at the top of the stem, behind the thickened ovary.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 2 to 5 leaves, each 2 to 4 inches long, to 1¼ inch wide, are irregularily spaced on the stem. Leaves are elliptical with a rounded or blunt tip, softly textured surfaces, slightly wavy edges, and parallel veins.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Fruit is a brown capsule filled with dust-like seeds.


Ram's-head Lady's-slipper is a rare orchid in Minnesota. According to the DNR, it was once found throughout our forested regions, but habitat loss from activities such as logging have caused its decline. It was listed as a state Endangered species in 1984 but downgraded to Threatened in 1996.

While committed that more people come to learn, love and appreciate our native plant heritage, and we encourage people to get out and explore for themselves, we struggle with how much locational data we share. Humans have a great tendency to carelessly destroy that which they would love. Plants that are poached from the wild do not survive transplantation and only further diminish the ever decreasing population. The Ram's-head lady's-slipper is much sought after as it is as beautiful as it is rare, but you must remember you trespass in its garden and great humility and caution are demanded in its presence.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk, taken at Cedar Creek Natural History Center in Isanti county, Chippewa Natl. Forest in Beltrami and Cass counties, and Norris Camp in Lake of the Woods County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Nancy, off GunflintTrail
on: 2011-07-14 13:11:51

We visited the site on June 8th, for the first time in several years. We knew of the site as we initially discovered the site in 1983. At the time we had not heard of the Ram's Head orchid. We initially thought it to be the state flower, the Showy Lady Slipper, until we did some research. We found out it was endangered and that Welby Smith was interested, so we tipped him off to the location. At the time he had only vague locations for sitings in the area. The colony seems to be doing well, but this year the Ram's head were a little past their peak on this date. I understand they have a short bloom life. It is such a beautiful little flower. During our almost forty years of hiking the Gunflint area, we have never found this flower in any other location, despite finding like habitat.

Posted by: Walt - Itasca State Park
on: 2011-07-17 18:43:09

I photographed the Rams Head LS on June 10th this year; it was in good condition. Would love to talk with others about photo sites.

Posted by: Janet - Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chanhassen
on: 2014-05-31 19:29:23

I saw this flower yesterday by the boardwalk in the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I would have walked right by it if a worker hadn't been standing right there who pointed it out. I got some lovely pictures! What a sweet little flower.

Posted by: Rebecca - Bemidji area
on: 2015-07-08 10:12:02

I have seen these in our area before, but I didn't realize what I was looking at, at the time. I have seen the white ones south of Bemidji in the Lake Plantagenet area. They liked the creek beds, approximately, 2o-4o feet away from the water source and the forest trail edges. I haven't seen them in recent years, however... but I haven't gone looking for them again. I only remembered this because of their unique shape!

Posted by: Daniel - Hines, MN
on: 2020-01-29 14:48:56

I have long kept the secret that I have Rams head on my property. It has easy access and last year we only counted about 34 blooms with about 100 some plants. It seems to have spread. Hopefully I can protect them for generations to come.

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