Pink or Red Flowers
Orchid Family (Orchidaceae)
Habitat: Montane Coniferous Forests
Height: Up to 15 cm
Description: Few hikers, upon discovering a cluster of these tiny orchids poking through a dense carpet of lodgepole pine needles, can resist taking a few moments to enjoy their delicate beauty. These delicate pink and white lady's-slipper orchids are a common springtime wildflower along the needle-carpeted floor of lodgepole pine forests.
Flower: The single flower has several pink, twisted, sepals and petals forming a crown. The flower has a small, pink upper lip above a large lower lip (the part that resembles a slipper). Looking into the flower, the lower lip is the largest part of the flower. It has deep purple stripes near its base, with some purple spots towards the tip. The purple spots are set off against a yellow backdrop. The spots, and the yellow colouration fade to white as the lip nears its outer margin.
Leaf: There is a single, basal, egg-shaped or elliptical leaf that slowly tapers to a point.
Fruit/Seed: Erect, elliptical capsule 2-3 cm long.
Similar Species: The round-leaved orchid (Amerorchis rotundifolia) may appear similar at first glance, but each plant bears between 2 and 8 individual flowers in a terminal cluster. The fairyslipper bears a single flower per stem.
Range: Calypso orchids are circumpolar in range and found across most of Canada from British Columbia and Alberta, east to Newfoundland, and south to California, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Notes: The Thompson Indians of British Columbia used the plant as a treatment for mild epilepsy. The bulb would be chewed, or the flowers sucked upon to help reduce seizures. Other Native groups used the tiny bulbs as a food source.
Despite their pretty appearance, they do not contain any nectar to reward inquizitive and hungry bees. Their bright colour attracts the bees anyway. The bees visit, and while not rewarded, will visit several flowers before learning to avoid them. By this time, they have cross-pollinated a few of the orchids. Luckily for the fairy slipper, there are always enough novice bees that have not yet learned that the flower does not offer any nectar reward.
Calypso orchids, as well as numerous other native orchids, need a certain mycorrhizal fungus in the soil in order to grow, and will only be found where this particular fungus is available. Orchid seeds are very small, and contain few nutrients for the growing plant. The fungus helps to provide sugars and minerals that the plant needs to successfully sprout. This makes it virtually impossible to transplant.
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