The showy lady's slipper is a beautiful wild orchid -- pink and white, with a distinctive pouch-like shape. It also happens to be Minnesota's state flower.
Put those factors together and it adds up to a lot of attention for the showy lady's slipper. Sometimes though, the attention comes from poachers.
About a month ago, Frank Brunner saw a man and a woman in a parked car on a gravel road near his house, west of New Ulm in southern Minnesota.
"They seen me pull into our driveway down here and they took off," Brunner said.
Brunner said the car went a short way down the road, turned around and parked again near the same ditch, which is on public land. A middle-aged lady got out of the car, went into the ditch and emerged with a clump of uprooted lady's slippers.
"I hollered at her and I said, 'Hey you can't pick them, those are state flowers!'" Brunner said. "And away they went. Seemed like it never fazed her."
All that marks the scene of the crime is a saucer-sized patch of bare dirt. The theft of plants from public lands is a crime and it's one that is expanding nationwide.
Brunner said the stolen flowers were a neighborhood treasure. He said even though the thieves didn't bother other nearby lady's slippers, the stolen plants will be missed.
"It's something you just don't see much, not around here," Brunner said. "It's a rare thing."
The number of lady's slippers in the state has declined, mainly because of a loss of habitat to development. Regardless of the plant's population, picking the flower on public land is a misdemeanor. The Brown County Sheriff's office is investigating.
Near the site of the theft, Bob Beck with the Minnesota DNR pointed out other lady's slippers growing next to the gravel road, some two and three feet tall. The plants have a large stalk with parallel veins and big broad leaves.
The plant grows slowly and might take 16 years to produce its first flower. But then it lives a long time -- 50 years to even 100 years if it's left alone.
Lady's slippers need the right mix of soil, sunshine and moisture to survive. Beck said successfully transplanting the orchid is almost impossible.
"It's really kind of pointless to take these out and think that you can plant these in your garden and they'll grow," Beck said. "They probably won't. You're just condemning them to death."
Theft of the lady's slipper happens across the state. The DNR's Bryce Anderson said he noticed the problem when he was stationed at Itasca State Park, one of Minnesota's most popular parks.
"Maybe once every two years we might find a hole where we knew there were some lady's slippers that had been dug up and taken away," Anderson said.
And those are just the thefts employees happened to discover in a park that covers some 50 square miles.
The theft of rare plants like the lady's slippers is a problem all across the country. Jim Nations, with the National Parks Conservation Association, said the National Park Service has identified 100 different plants from federal lands that are being poached.
He said in the western U.S., thieves are going after one of the components that keep a forest healthy.
"National Park Service rangers found people peeling moss off the trees," Nations said. "[They] sell it in nurseries and craft stores to decorate, reuse and reline baskets at Easter. It's like peeling the skin off the forest when you go in and rip the moss off the trees."
He said other targets include cactus plants, wild flowers and ginseng, reputed to have medicinal powers.
"There are organized gangs of ginseng poachers," Nations said. "Poachers are drawn to that because you can sell it for $400-$500 per pound."
Back on the gravel road near New Ulm, where the lady's slippers were stolen, dried out blossoms hang from the stalks of the remaining plants. Nearby is the patch of bare dirt; it seems almost insignificant. But the DNR's Bob Beck is offended by the theft.
"Kind of sad that people think that they can come and take stuff that belongs to the public," Beck said. "For whatever reason, I'm not sure why."
Beck said the thieves were really stealing from every citizen in Minnesota.