INFORMATION ABOUT THE FAIRY ORCHID…
By: Nikki Phipps
Image by brewbooks The Fairy Orchid, also called Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa), is a terrestrial orchid from North America, Europe and Asia. Naturally found in the Western U.S. and along the northern states, it is also commonly seen in Sweden and Finland.
The genus Calypso is named for the beautiful sea nymph in Homer’s Odyssey who waylaid Ulysses on his return to Ithaca. The specific epithet bulbosa is the Latin meaning “bulbed,” in reference to the small pseudobulb of this species.
The fairy orchid has a single, pleated, oblong-shaped leaf that grows from a corm. It also has a single flower on a slender stalk. The flowers of the fairy orchid are pinkish purple with light pink in a “crown formation” on top of flower. A pale slipper cup has markings of dark purple stripes on inside of slipper. The center of the slipper is lemon yellow with tiny yellow hairs.
Generally blooming takes place in May or June. Fairy orchids usually reach heights of about 3-6 inches.
Although the fairy orchid’s distribution is wide, it is very susceptible to disturbance, and is therefore classified as threatened or endangered. Picking the flower often destroys not only the flower but the entire plant.
The bulbs were once used as a food source by North American Indians, though this is not recommended now because the sites for these plants are now rare and easily destroyed. As sensitive as this plant is known to be, given the right germination conditions, it is as adaptable as it is beautiful.
The plants require a location in full shade such as beneath trees. Its natural habitat is in thick, wet, mossy areas of woodlands, especially near creek beds and rivers. The fairy orchid enjoys rich, moist soil that has been enriched with leaf mold or bark chips.
In frost-prone areas, the fairy orchid should only be grown in a cold shaded greenhouse, while in warmer regions plants can be naturalized in the woodland or bog garden.
As the flowers fade, divide corms very carefully to propagate, usually in fall. The fairy orchid produces a new tuber towards the end of its growing season. If this is removed from the plant as its flowers are fading, the shock to the plant can stimulate new tubers to be formed.
The tuber should be treated as being dormant, while the remaining plant should be encouraged to continue in growth in order to give it time to produce new tubers. Make sure that you keep plenty of soil with each plant. It is also said to be possible to transplant orchids after they have flowered but while they are still in leaf.
There are two varieties common to the U.S., var. americana and var. occidentalis, which may be available for purchase through suitable growers.
Slugs and snails love devouring the fairy orchid and this should be taken into consideration when growing them.