Calypso bulbosa : Fairyslipper


Scientific Name:

Kingdom: Plantae


Class: Monocoteldonae (one seed-leaf)

Family: Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Genera: Calypso (Calypso) (Gk. Kalypso=conceal; Referring to this plants concealed habitat half hid in shady mossy places)

Species: bulbosa (Lat. bulba=bulb shaped)

English Name(s):

Fairyslipper, Calypso, Venus'-Slipper, Cytherea

First Nation Names:



  • Stems 5-15 cm tall from single fleshy corm (bulblike underground stem).


  • 2-6 cm long 1.5-5 cm wide, ovate or obtuse (broadly eggshaped), veins parallel.
  • Dark green, lasting through winter and wilting the next summer.
  • Solitary, basal (from base), petiolate (stalked).

Reproductive Parts:

  • Flowers perfect (bisexual). Zygomorphic (biliteral symmetry).
  • Petals 3 of which the side two are alike but are different from the lower one which is lip like.
  • Sepals 3.
  • Sepals and side petals purple pinkish, 12mm-23mm long.
  • Column (fused stamens + style) winged and petal like, anther just below the tip
  • Flowers showy, single, 15-20mm long.
  • Lower lip large 15-23mm, slipper like, yellow and white, streaked with puple dots or stripes.


  • Fruit a three chambered capsule containing innumerable minute seeds.
  • Each capsule with 10,000-20,000+ tiny seeds.
  • Erect, elliptic, capsules, 2-3 cm long.

Not to Be Confused With:

  • The genus Cypripidium (Lady's-slippers), are similar in shape but their lower lip is inroled and smooth, whereas the lower lip of Calypso bulbosa is not curled in and is hairy.



  • Herbacious.
  • The fine delicate roots of this plant are easily damaged. Just picking the flower will often damage the roots enough that the plant will die.
  • These plants are closely associated with specific soil fungi. Seeds will not germinate without the presence of these fungi.

Life Cycle:

Seasonal Cycle:

  • Leaves are deciduous but last through 1 winter and only wither and die the next summer.
  • Pollination of flowers as rare, Only about 6% are pollinated in a season.
  • The earliest Orchid to flower in our area. Flowers in early June.


Animal Uses:

  • The variability of colour and smell of different Calypso bulbosa flowers means the bees may visit a number of them and thus pollinating a number of flowers before learning to stay away.
  • These flowers are designed to deceive bees. They look and smell like flowers that should be good for nectar but they contain no nectar.


  • Dry to wet mossy places in coniferous or mixed forests.




  • This species was heavily harvested. Untold thousands were dug up for the corm (bulb) used in traditional Chinese medicine. This practise has now ceased as this plant is no longer common enough.


  • The plant has been reported to provide the drug cypripidium. Used as a nervois stimulant or antispasmodic.


  • The corm (bulb) can be eaten raw or boiled and are said to have a rich butter like texture.

Traditional Gwich'in:





          Traditional Other:


          • Kalypso was a greek sea nymph a goddess and the daughter of Atlas. In Homer's Odessy she kept Odysseus concealed on her island for seven years.




              • Young Haida girls would eat the corms (bulbs) raw hoping to increase their bustline.


              Full bloom, can see yellow hairyness and purple stripes on lower lip.

              Full bloom, side view

              Full bloom, note the pointy, pink sepals(3) and petals(2)

              Full bloom, side view

              Leaves and flowers, top view

              Illustration from: Illustrated Flora of BC

              Range Maps

              World Range: Circumpolar with large gaps. In N.A. from NL to AK south to MI, CO, AZ, CA

              Prov/State Abrev. List

              In Yukon: Rare, north to Peal watershed.

              To Top Of Page