Happy First Day of Spring!! Is it actually spring-y where you are? We’re supposed to get up to the mid-60s here today and my crocuses have been blooming for a week, so I’m not complaining!

The final entry for the 2014 Countdown to Spring series is the stunning but elusive Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa), also known as the Fairy Slipper. The Calypso Orchid has been my Colorado wildflower “holy grail” ever since I started photographing wildflowers in earnest in the summer of 2008. They bloom for a very brief period in June here in Colorado and if you don’t hit it at JUST the right time and know JUST where to look, you’ll miss your chance until the next year. I was delighted to FINALLY hit the Calypso Orchid jackpot last summer.

calypso orchid

The flower of the Calypso Orchid does not produce nectar so it has to rely on “pollination by deception.” The scent and shape of the flower resemble other flowers that do have nectar. This attracts bumblebees, which land on the lip of the flower and enter the pouch in search of food. Pollen is deposited on the bee from the column overhanging the pouch opening. The pollen-speckled bumblebee in the photo below is on a futile quest to extract nectar from this albino Calypso orchid:

bumble bee being tricked into pollinating an albino calypso orchid

Fun facts about the Calypso Orchid:

  • The plant is named after Calypso, the beautiful sea nymph who held Greek hero Odysseus hostage for seven years on the island of Ogygia in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • The Greek word calypso means “covered” or “hidden from view,” which is very appropriate for this hard-to-find beauty.
  • The Calypso Orchid is just one of 13 species of orchids that are native to Colorado. (By way of contrast, Hawaii has only 4 native species of orchids).
  • The Calypso orchid favors moist, shady location underneath evergreens with organic-rich soil.
  • This plant is very susceptible to disturbance, and is therefore classified as threatened or endangered in several U.S. states and in Sweden and Finland.
  • From a medicinal standpoint, the bulbs have been chewed or the flowers sucked to treat mild epilepsy.
  • It has been called the most beautiful terrestrial orchid in North America.
  • The flowers emit a pleasant, vanilla-like aroma.
  • Albino flowers are fairly common.

calypso orchid

calypso orchid

calypso orchid

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