Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Calypso the Fairy Slipper

After some online searching, I was able to find more information about lady slippers found at our cabin. They are called Calypso bulbosa var.occidentalis or the Pacific or Western Fairy Slipper. Other names for them are the Venus slipper or hidder-of-the-north. According to Greek mythology, Calypso was the goddess daughter of Atlas, was Homer's beautiful nymph hidden in the woods and found by Ulysses when he was shipwrecked on the Island of Ogygia. Calypso means 'concealment'. The comparison is appropriate, as these tiny lady slippers are hidden on the forest floor. Finding them is like searching for treasure. They favor a shady location underneath evergreens that are moist with organic-rich soil. They bloom from spring to midsummer and emerge, a small flower atop a bare stem, from a small tuber. The tiny flower is no more than an inch across and is a beautiful magenta color with a boldly patterned lip and a vanilla scent. Unbelievabley, this delicate orchid is frost tolerant. This orchid grows in partnership with a fungus in the soil that shares nutrients taken from the roots of trees. The orchid uses 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. [A trail for 4-wheelers was being designed by my sons to go through this section of the woods, but those plans will be changed now.] The corms or bulbs are attached by means of delicate roots. These roots can be broken by even the lightest tug of the stem. Thus, when the flower is picked the plant usually dies.

The lady slipper in this photo is growing beside a small, yellow violet. As you can tell, it's a small plant that isn't easily seen.

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