In the land of “unique adaptations”, the fabulous Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa) is a kind of a stand out. This lovely little flower (it’s only about 1” tall, on a 4” stem) grows in damp to dry pine forests, sometimes alone but often in little (or large) clumps (the photo to the right is a particularly large clump). It has a single large leaf and a large bulb underground. It is also known as a Venus Slipper or Fairy Slipper on account of the shoe-like shape of the flower. It is very delicate; step on it, and it will probably die.
The flower is lying
This beautiful flower is quite misleading. It has no nectar, and insects can’t get at the pollen very well, because the flower’s bowl is so deep. But it fakes insects out by looking and smelling like something they should visit. In particular, new juvenile queen bees (who don’t know better) climb inside looking for food, and visit a few until they figure out there’s no reason to visit any more. But by then, they have cross-pollenated other flowers. The flower wins; the bee just wastes its own time.
To add to the bee’s confusion, Calypsos change colour and aroma over time and between individual plants. You can see the different colours of the flowers in the photos, yet all of these photos were taken within days of each other. This colour and aroma change further misleads the bees. And… it turns out the Calypso is exactly the correct size to squeeze in the rather large Golden Northern Bumble Bee – who happen to be out at this time of year.
So this explains the reason the Calypso blooms so early: to get the young, inexperienced, early emergent queen Golden Northern Bumble Bee who come out in May looking to set up her hive location. And for the Golden Northerns, only the queens survive the winter, so there are no workers around at this time of year.
Sometimes, nature is just too cool for words.
Meet more of the pretty flowers of K-Country here!