|Ram's-Head Lady Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum), taken|
in May 2015, near Bemidji.
There have always been three orchids at the top of my bucket list: the Ram's-Head Lady Slipper, the Dragon's Mouth Orchid, and the Calypso Orchid. When I started searching in earnest for these flowers some years ago, I thought it would take me much longer to find all of them.
|Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa), taken|
June 2016, in the Pennington Bog.
In my search for the Ram's-Head, I had some help, and you can read about that journey here. I still haven't seen it within the confines of the Pennington Bog, even though it is reported to grow there.
In 2015, I spotted the Dragon's Mouth Orchid in the Pennington, and I saw even more examples of it there last summer. (I have also seen it in Wisconsin, thanks to tips from Josh Horky.)
Now, in 2017, I have finally seen my "holy grail," the Calypso Orchid. I found about 25 plants, though I only saw about 15 blossoms. I knew it was listed in the original survey of the Pennington Bog, taken back in the 1970s (thanks to my friend Em W for helping me find the survey), but in the five years that I've been exploring this bog, I have never yet seen it until now.
|Pennington Bog, taken June 2016.|
The Pennington Bog is 108 acres of heavily-wooded swampland. It looks like a forest right out of a fairytale, dark and dense, just a little spooky, and the Calypso Orchid is very tiny, growing no higher than 9 inches, with a flower no more than an inch long, so searching for such a small flower in such a relatively large area is very much like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
|Pennington, last weekend, with Calypso Orchids|
I've learned some things about orchid-hunting in the last few years. Sometimes, it's easiest to search for the plant or the foliage before you even start looking for the flowers. The Calypso Orchid is unusual, in that its single leaf stays green all winter, persisting under the snow. It dies off after the flower blooms and then sprouts again in the late summer. While the leaf is very small, only an inch or two long, it is very distinctive in appearance, featuring deep pleats along its length, as if it had been folded like a paper fan. I figured that if I started looking early enough in the season, right as the snow was melting, I might be able to spot some leaves, and then later, find the flower.
|Calypso leaf, tiny and pleated, visible as the last of |
the snow melts. Note the beginnings of a stem!
This strategy proved to be a good one. I started searching for the leaves on April 29. There was still some snow and ice in the bog, and I chose to search a section that I haven't focused on in the past. Because Calypso likes old cedar trees, I decided to focus on the areas around the bases of such trees. I spent five hours crisscrossing and meandering my way through the bog, always heading for cedars, and just as I was about to give up, I spotted two leaves, not far from each other. They were easy to spot against the snow, being even greener than the moss.
|Calypso bud against a white handkerchief background,|
which helps the iPhone camera lens focus on
something so tiny.
Excitedly, I noted the GPS coordinates (I use a GPS app on my phone), took some photos, and made plans to return in the coming weeks. The next time I visited the bog, I searched for the two plants for which I had coordinates. My $20 GPS app is accurate to about 50 feet, and sometimes it leads me in circles. While I didn't find the original two plants I spotted, I did find, and record coordinates for, some others, and they had buds.
The Calypso buds are so small that my iPhone 6s camera lens had a lot of trouble focusing on them, especially against the complex background of the forest floor. I've learned to use a white or black handkerchief as a background when I'm photographing tiny flowers, so that helped me get a semi-decent shot or two of the buds.
|Calypso Orchid flower not quite fully open yet.|
It's hard to convey just how tiny these orchids are, and how fragile and vulnerable. This bog is protected, and entry is allowed only with a permit, because of the rare and diverse plant life. One has to walk very carefully, checking each step to make sure one is not crushing a flower.
I did see some Calypso Orchid plants that had been nibbled on, and two flower stems that were bent, perhaps by some hungry deer. I also found a couple flowers that were already past their prime. (Calypso is one of the earliest-blooming orchids in our region.) I took a photo of one of those fading flowers, and had to lift its hanging head to get a good view of it. You can see how tiny it is in relation to my fingers.
|Fading Calypso, with flower no bigger than my fingernail.|
My two-pronged strategy of searching early in the season and focusing on Cedar trees really paid off. --But there was also a lot of luck involved; after all, I randomly chose to focus on an unfamiliar quarter of the bog.
In any case, I am very happy to have found the Calypso. I hope to be able to see it bloom for many springs yet to come.
|Pair of Calypso Orchids.|
|Yet another pair of Calypsos.|
|Here, you can see the pleated leaves.|
|A third pair--here, you get both a top and back view. To the right, you can see the yellow |
forked tongue hidden under the flower's lip.
|You can really see the pleats in the leaf here. I had to use a diagonal orientation|
to fit the entire plant in the frame.
Calypso is an amazingly beautiful and intricate orchid--the deep purple or maroon stripes inside the labellum and the yellow bristles on its tongue combine with its bright purple headdress to make for a dazzling sight. The orchid is pollinated by bumble bee queens, who are attracted to this flower when they emerge from hibernation in the ground.
Enjoy the photos below--most folks never get to see this orchid!