Botanical Name: Calypso bulbosa
Other Names: Fairy’s Slipper, Venus’s Slipper, Hider in the North
Calypso orchids are perhaps one of the prettiest northern flowers, and occur in small patches with only one basal leaf per plant. The solitary fragrant vanilla scented flower nods on 4 – 8 inch stems, and appear in May and June. The flowers are slipper shaped, with the upper part pink and the lower part white over which hangs bright yellow stamens with black tips. It is an indigenous deciduous terrestrial orchid. Ten to twenty thousand seeds are produced in the brown seed capsule immediately after flowering.
These orchids love shady woodland, particularly in moss under spruce trees. They have a relatively short life span, no more than 5 years, and do not like being disturbed. In some areas they are rare due to human interference.
The name seems to come from the Greek meaning of confinement, probably due to the fact that these orchids can be difficult to spot in the deep moss.
The small white corms were eaten raw by Aboriginal people, they taste buttery. These plants were harvested only as a treat, as digging up the corm destroys the entire plant.
The orchids flower early in the season, and are designed to attract Queen Bumble bees to pollinate them. As the bee enters the lip of the plant it picks up pollen which it transfers to the next flower. The orchids contain no nectar, and the young naive queens quickly learn this, but each year produces another batch of juvenile queen bees, thus ensuring that pollination takes place every year.
The root and flowers can be chewed for the relief of epilepsy.
Research is being carried out on the plant due to its ability to provide the drug Cypripedium. This drug is used as a nervine and antispasmodic. In fact this is widely used in Chinese medicine.