Calypso Orchid

Vickie Emms

Anola, MB., Canada

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Artist's Description

Featured in Endangered Plants – May 29, 2009
Top 10 Placement in Challenge in Endangered Plants – May 6, 2009

Very Interesting Plant
The Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), also known as the fairy slipper or Venus’s slipper, is a small pink, purple, pinkish-purple, or red flower accented with white lower lip, darker purple spottings, and yellow beard. A perennial member of the orchid family (Orchidaceae), it is found in undisturbed northern montane forests.

It is the only species currently classified in the genus Calypso, which takes its name from the Greek signifying concealment, as they tend to favor sheltered areas on conifer forest floors.

Their tiny purple blooms, typically about 10 cm in height, can be a pleasant sporadic sight on hiking trails from late March onwards, though in the more northerly parts of their range they do not bloom until May and June. These come to full bloom in nearly 20 years.

Its range is circumpolar, and includes all the western states and most of the most northerly states of the United States. Furthermore Scandinavia (northern Sweden and Finland), northern part of European Russia and eastern Siberia and Canada – see external links for map. Two varieties are found in the USA, var. americana and var. occidentalis, which are found respectively east and west of the Sierra Nevada ranges.

Although the calypso orchid’s distribution is wide, it is very susceptible to disturbance, and is therefore classified as threatened or endangered in several states, and in Sweden and Finland as well. It is easily disturbed and does not transplant well, owing to its mycorrhizal dependence on specific soil fungi. The bulbs have been used as a food source by North American native peoples, though this is not recommended now because the sites for these plants are now rare and easily destroyed. The Thompson Indians of British Columbia used it as a treatment for epilepsy.

The Calypso Orchid relies on “pollination by deception”, as it attracts insects which it does not nourish and which eventually begin to learn not to revisit it. Avoiding such recognition may account for some of the small variation in the flower’s appearance. (

Photographed in Waterton National Park, Alberta, Canada

Laminated Print

Artwork Comments

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