Wildflower watching

May 06, 2016
I have a problem. I’ll admit it. Come wildflower season, I can’t help but need to know what is blooming where. I seek out answers near and far, peppering Land Trust volunteers and staff any time they are out and about with, “What’s blooming?”

by Sarah Mowry

I have a problem. I’ll admit it. Come wildflower season, I can’t help but need to know what is blooming where. I seek out answers near and far, peppering Land Trust volunteers and staff any time they are out and about with, “What’s blooming?”

Thus, it was with great delight (and some aligning of the stars) that I heard that one of my favorite wildflowers was blooming AND I was actually in a position to go find it!

Enter the Calypso or fairy slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa): It’s pink. It’s an orchid. It looks like something fairies would use…..and it’s so, so showy!! Standing around 6 inches tall, the Calypso has one flower on a delicate stem. The flower’s pink petals stand up when in full bloom and offer a punk-rocker contrast to the delicate, spotted little slipper-like sac that attaches to the stem.

Though Calypso orchids can be found in Europe, Asia and North America, here in Central Oregon they are an uncommon spring treat. Hence my excitement in hearing they were blooming. You think it would be easy to find a pink flower on the brown and green forest floor. In fact, Calypso orchids hide in plain sight. They are often found in mossy, shady areas, where they hunker under bushes and next to logs. It’s the pink that eventually pops out at you. Then, your brain registers the size, shape and color, and develops a search image that helps you see the flowers more easily.

We found ours on the Lake Creek Trail hiking from the Land Trust’s Metolius Preserve to Suttle Lake. Calypso orchids also grow at the Metolius Preserve and can be found in the springtime as temperatures warm up. They can be solitary or in little clusters. They were named for Calypso, a beautiful sea nymph in Homer’s Odyssey, whose name also means concealment. Bulbosa refers to the shape of the corms, or the part of the plant below ground where energy is stored.

Calypso orchids are beautiful, seasonal wildflowers that are true wonders of natural world. Should you feel the need to go find one, please, please keep in mind that these are extremely delicate plants. Unfortunately, their greatest danger is from humans who often trample or attempt to transplant them. Each Calypso has bulbs that are attached by delicate roots that are easily broken with the lightest touch or tug on the stem. Therefore, when the flower is picked the plant also dies. Please enjoy them with your eyes only, so they can continue to bring joy to us all from year to year.