Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis

Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis, the Western Fairy Slipper, is always the first of our native orchids to bloom and can be found in bloom in our area for a period of five to six weeks, the bloom season later and later as one moves to higher elevations.  It is a tiny thing, the single flowers only 3 centimeters tall and the plant seldom taller than 15-20 centimeters, and for that reason it is sometimes called "the Hider of the North."  It seems to prefer more open areas in the woodlands and is often found along the trails.  When the sun catches the flowers on the forest floor they glow like tiny jewels.  The variety shown here is found in the Cascade Mountains and the west side of the Rockies and is much more uncommon than the other variety, the Eastern Fairy Slipper, Calypso bulbosa var. americana, which is readily distinguished by by the yellow beard and is found all across Canada and the northern USA.  In some place in the Pacific Northwest, however, the western variety is very common, and it is the best known of all our native orchids.  There is considerable color variation in this species from pink to a bluish-lavender and some flowers are very pale, almost white.  However, the flowers turn white or tan as they fade and it is difficult to distinguish the paler forms from flowers that are going by.  To complicate matters further, there is a white variety but none of the flowers shown here are that variety.

 April 7

April 11

April 14

April 21 and 22

April 25

May 3

May 9
(very nearly finished at lower elevations)

May 31
(still hanging on at mid elevations)

Note: I am only going to do one post for each of our native orchids this season and so will be adding to this post from time to time.


  1. Hi Ron,
    very nice pictures again. I love how the Calypso grows in bouquets. In scandinavia they were mostly solitary. Also: good work showing them in their natural, unspoiled habitat.

    I myself had the shock for the weekend already. I went to an Orchid mascula site, to find it mostly destroyed. Somebody ran all over the place with landscaping or heavy agricultural gear. The brutality of that really made me mad, even more so, since it is species struggling for survival in my area.

    It is still abundent in other areas, but massively declining in the lower Taunus.
    Astonishingly enough, the plants were already blooming.
    We are now talking 4 genera blooming in Germany. Ophrys (3), Orchis (4), Dactylorhiza (sambucina) and Anacamptis (Anacamptis morio).

    I cannot remember that this has ever happened so early before.


    1. Hi Martin,
      Trust you are recovering.
      Mostly we find Calypsos growing as single plants also but occasionally one finds a beautiful clump of them. Hope we are able to show you some when you are here.
      We have shocks like that also, as when we returned to the site of an all-white Calypso and found that someone had dug it up.
      As to the season it is early here also, as early as I can remember, and I am hoping it does not affect our plans too much.

  2. Hi Ron,
    Your photos are stunning! I am a botanical artist working on a thesis project on 4 native orchids, and am looking for great photos to use as reference for my art - or hopefully better than my own photos. Would you be open to having some of your photos used this way? Thank you for considering - I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about the project, and use of the images.

    1. If the photos themselves are not be used for commercial purposes, I have no objection, Janet. I would love to see the results of your use of them, if you have opportunity to do so.