Calypso Orchids

Category: Plants + Animals

The delicate Calypso orchid, also called Fairy Slipper or Venus Slipper, is a beautiful wildflower with a growing season from mid-May to early June and found commonly in many places when hiking the Canadian Rockies. Of course, this timing is dependent on when the snow leaves the ground.

Calypso Orchid
Calypso Orchid

Where To Find Calypso Orchids In The Mountains

You will find clusters of these beautiful flowers in the Lodgepole pine needles that blanket the Montane forest floor. They prefer shady locations, and the canopy of the Lodgepole pine trees provides that.  I saw these particular calypso orchids along the Spray River Loop in Banff National Park.

cluster of calypso orchids
clusters of Calypso Orchids seen among the Lodgepole pine needles
calypso orchids starting to bloom
just starting to bloom

The Calypso Orchids’ Deceptive Tet Clever Pollination Strategy

The Calypso orchids are beautiful and are very smart when it comes to their pollination strategy. They have a slight vanilla smell to them, and their beauty and vibrant colour attract the bees to them.

pollen on calypso orchids
Yellow pollen waiting for an unsuspecting bee

The bee, anticipating a sweet reward, crawls into the orchid and soon discovers that there isn’t any nectar and moves onto the next orchid but is again disappointed. In the meantime, the Calypso orchid’s strategy has been working, as the bee has been gathering and dispersing pollen to the other orchids. After several failed attempts to get nectar, the bee moves to a different species of flower, effectively spreading the pollen from the Calypso orchids!

calypso orchids

First Nations Uses For Calypso Orchids

The Nlaka’pamux, previously known as the Thompson River Indians,  used the Calypso orchid plant to treat mild epilepsy. They would chew the bulb or suck on the flowers to help reduce seizures. Other First Nations groups used these tiny bulbs as a food source – apparently these beautiful flower bulbs have a buttery taste! (I don’t recommend eating wild plants, however!).

first nations uses for calypso orchids
Nlaka’pamux – picture from the internet.

A Fungus Is the Friend of the Calypso Orchids

Calypso orchid seeds do not provide a lot of nutrients for the plant. To assist with this lack of nutrients, the Orchids have developed a mutually beneficial relationship, also called a Symbiotic relationship, with the Mycorrhizae (“Mycor” –“rhiza”) fungus.

fungus friend of calypso orchids
Picture from the Mycorrhizae (“Mycor” –“rhiza”) website.

The Mycorrhizae. Com website explains this relationship best:

“Mycor” – “rhiza” literally means “fungus” – “root” and describes the mutually beneficial relationship between the plant and root fungus. These specialized fungi colonize plant roots and extend far into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments in the soil are truly extensions of root systems and are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves. More than 90 percent of plant species in natural areas form a symbiotic relationship with the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi.”

Take A Hike Soon And Take Only Pictures

The Calypso orchid growing season is from mid-May to early June. They are beautiful, and it would be very tempting to pick just one … however … it is illegal to pick any wildflowers, so please take a picture – take many!

Pick Up A Copy Of Take A Hike With Your Children

My sold out book, Take A Hike With Your Children, is now available on Amazon as an eBook. Pick up your copy today, and begin exploring the Rockies!

Happy Hiking!

The Legal Stuff
All pictures are mine unless otherwise stated
Flower pictures have been gathered from many trails in Banff and Canmore and over the past five years.
Copyright 2011-2021, Three Mountain Family Hikes®.  “Getting families closer to nature one step at a time®”

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