The Genus Calypso

The genus Calypso is a monotypic genus or only one species. The single species Calypso bulbosa has four varities:

Calypso bulbosa var. americana:Occurs in North America including Washington State
Calypso bulbosa var. bulbosa:Occurs in Northern Eurasia
Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis:Occurs in North America including Washington State
Calypso bulbosa var. speciosa:Occurs in Japan

This genus Calypso has many names associated with its beauty, lip shape and local distribution. Calypso, the sea nymph, was the beautiful daughter of the Titan, Atlas. In the Odyssey, Calypso used her beauty to keep shipwrecked Ulysses captive for seven years on her island of Ogygia. Calypso bulbosa has a saccate shaped lip that is flattened in the front. This shape resembles the look of a small shoe and the common name Fairy Slipper. Calypso bulbosa has a wide spread distribution but is considered to have a local distribution within its range. Calypso bulbosa is slightly harder to find, giving it the common name Hider-of-the-North. Calypso, the sea nymph, was also called 'she that conceals' or 'the concealer'. The Greek word Calypso means covered or hidden from view. With its beautiful pink colors and its vanilla scent, in my opinion, this orchid is the most beautiful orchid in North America.




Calypso bulbosa var.americana
or the Eastern Fairy Slipper


Calypso bulbosa var. americana is also known as the Eastern Fairy Slipper. This terrestrial orchid can be found growing in open woodlands, coniferous forests and barrens in wet mossy places or in humus. The flowers are usually single and rarely two. The petals and sepals are a light pink color. The lip is white with dark maroon veins and yellow hairs or beard. The flower has a vanilla scent. The single ribbed leaf is ovate in shape. The distribution in North America is Alaska east to Newfoundland, south in the Rocky Mountains, south to the Great Lakes region. In Washington State this orchid occurs in Okanogan, Ferry and Pend Oreille Counties.

Calypso bulbosa var americana has three formas:
  • Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma albiflora: The flower is white with a yellow beard.
  • Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma biflora: Two flowers occur on one stem.
  • Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma rosea: The lip is entirely pink with a yellow beard.
  • Height: 1 1/5 - 8 inches
  • Flower size: 1/5 - 1 1/5 inches wide
  • Blooms: May to July



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Photos courtesy of: Melissa Rathbun- Okanogan County, WA


Photos courtesy of: Melissa Rathbun- Ferry County, WA


Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma albiflora
Photos courtesy of: Lorne Heska
Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma biflora
Photos courtesy of: Paul Martin Brown
Calypso bulbosa var. americana forma rosea
Photos courtesy of: Melissa Rathbun



Calypso bulbosa var.occidentalis
or the Pacific or Western Fairy Slipper


Calypso bulbosa var occidentalis is also known as the Pacific or Western fairy slipper, Venus slipper or hidder-of -the-north. In Washington State this orchid can be found in the Mount Rainier National Park, Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge and the Olympic National Park. The distribution is Alaska to California and east to Idaho.

The Calypso orchid favors a shady location underneath evergreens that are moist with a organic-rich soil. This orchid blooms from spring to midsummer and emerges from a small tuber. The calypso orchid has a single flower atop a bare stem. This tiny flower is only an inch across and packs a punch with its brilliant magenta color, boldly patterned lip and vanilla scent. The leaves are oval and ribbed. This orchid attracts insects with the tufts of white hairs on its lip. This orchid is also frost tolerant.

Though not endangered, they require special conditions of shade, moisture and soil that cannot be duplicated outside of old-growth forest. The single leaf has a very limited ability to photosynthesize and so cannot provide all the nutrients the plant needs. This orchid, along with many others in the Pacific Northwest, grows in partnership with a fungus in the soil that shares nutrients taken from the roots of trees. So in a way, the orchid is using the needles of evergreen trees in the forest to provide the nourishment it needs through a fungus. For this reason, they won't grow if dug up and taken home.

The Calypso orchid is being rapidly exterminated in populated areas due to trampling and picking. The corms are attached by means of delicate roots. These roots can be broken by even the lightest tug of the stem. Hence, when the flower is picked the plant usually dies.

Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis has 2 formas:

  • Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis forma biflora: Two flowers occur on one stem.
  • Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis forma nivea: The flower is white with a white beard.
  • Height: 2-8 inches
  • Flower size: 1-2 inches wide
  • Blooms: April to July


Photos courtesy of: 2008 Melissa Rathbun: Thurston County, WA


Photos courtesy of: 2006 Tina Taylor: Mount Peak, WA


Photos courtesy of: 2012 Tina Taylor: Allyn, WA



Calypso bulbosa x kostiukiae
or Kostiuk's Hybrid Calypso


Calypso bulbosa x kostiukiae or Kostiuk's Hybrid Calypso is the hybrid between Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis and Calypso bulbosa var. americana. The hybrid is named after Brenda Kostiuk codiscoverer and orchid researcher. This hybrid usually has yellow hairs like Calypso bulbosa var. americana. and a spotted lip like Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis.



Photos courtesy of: Melissa Rathbun 2010: Republic, WA



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