How to Grow (C. bulbosa) Calypso Indoors

The calypso plant, though tricky to cultivate, is beautiful when in bloom. Calypso © Hofmann/Flickr

This exquisite genus is monotype, which means it contains only one species: C. bulbosa, a small and easily damaged plant with subtle purple colorations and a wide variety of patterns on their cup-shaped flowers. Often very small, Calypso plants are found naturally in forests all over the world, distributed over several continents; but despite their wide range, they’re very often disturbed and are considered threatened in many areas.

Typically, these plants range from purple to pink to red, though they often have tinges of yellow as well. They aren’t often grown in domestic cultivation; instead, these are forest plants that grow naturally underneath the canopies of trees. It’s from this growth habit that they get their name; “calypso” refers to concealment, as these plants grow on the floor and can be difficult to spot. Though widely distributed, they’re tricky to find and it’s not often that you’ll see these plants grown in containers. However, there’s no real reason they won’t work as houseplants, and the delicate beauty of their flowers gives them real advantages as domestic specimens.

Part of the reason that they’re so difficult to cultivate is that C. bulbosa has a particular relationship with certain types of soil fungi, without which they cannot grow. Therefore, make sure that their soil contains these necessary fungi if you’d like to attempt to grow them.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: As their name would suggest, Calypso plants grow underneath other structures and therefore partial shade or filtered sunlight is best. Too much light can scorch their leaves and cause discoloration.
  • Water: Keep moist and do not allow to dry out. But make sure their drainage is good, or else you risk rotting the roots through overexposure.
  • Temperature: Warm to moderate temperatures are best, but these are hardy forest plants that can tolerate wide swings in temperature.
  • Soil: A good potting mix with some organic material should do Calypsos just fine, and once again make sure that they drain well.
  • Fertilizer: Feed regularly with a balanced fertilizer like a 20-20-20, diluted and mixed into their water for best results. Poor blooms can sometimes be helped with feeding.

Propagation

Calypso plants have corms, which are a type of bulb that grows underneath the ground and stores water. They must be propagated from these corms, which can be planted separately or separated from an existent specimen. But propagating Calypsos is fairly difficult, not least because of their finicky requirements about fungus in the soil, and it should be left to the experts.

Repotting

It’s not a bad idea to repot these plants if they’re grown in containers, though they are very small and unlikely to outgrow any pot. Watch for common signs of stress like overcrowding and falling leaves, which can mean that the plant needs a change of scenery. Make sure that they aren’t packed too tightly in the new pot, so their drainage is good, which will benefit their root systems.

Varieties

C. bulbosa is the only Calypso plant that exists, but there are several closely related genera also in the Calypsoeae tribe, such as Yoania – a Japanese orchid genus with tasteful, purplish-white flowers.

Grower’s Tips

These woodland plants aren’t commonly grown in cultivation, and the biggest thing you can do for them if you do want to grow them domestically is to ensure that they have the correct fungal balance on which they depend to grow. Apart from that, they’re easily disturbed and shouldn’t be subjected to any extreme conditions, from overwatering to intense heat. Watch out for common orchid pests, like scale and spider mites, and use a good pesticide if necessary.