How to Grow and Care for Calypso Orchids

calypso orchid

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The rare and beautiful calypso orchid is classified as a monotype genus, meaning it comprises only one species: Calypso bulbosa. This orchid is not commonly sold commercially, either in plant or seed form. Thus, you might have a difficult time finding it to grow. However, you could have luck seeing it in the wild, as its varieties grow naturally in many parts of the world often on forest floors. However, despite the orchid's wide range, its population is considered threatened in many areas.

The calypso orchid is a petite and rather delicate plant. It generally blooms in the late spring most commonly with a small pinkish-purple flower, though the blooms also come in varying shades of pink, purple, red, and white. The flower includes a somewhat spoon-shaped labellum, or larger central petal at its base, which is typically marked in a contrasting color such as yellow. The orchid usually only produces one flower at a time, but rarely a plant can produce two flowers simultaneously. This orchid has a slow growth rate and is best planted in the fall or just after the plant has finished flowering.

Common Name Calypso orchid, fairy slipper, Venus' slipper
Botanical Name Calypso bulbosa
Family Orchidaceae
Plant Type  Perennial
Mature Size  3–6 in. tall, 3 in. wide
Sun Exposure Partial, shade
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time  Spring, summer
Flower Color  Pink, purple, red, white
Hardiness Zones 4–8, USA
Native Area  North America, Eurasia 

Calypso Orchid Care

Unless you live in the calypso orchid’s natural environment, it is very difficult to grow the plant in your garden. And it is even more difficult to mimic its environment to care for it in a container planting. Thus, most growers would suggest admiring the plant in nature and avoiding the struggle of caring for it at home. 

The issue is primarily with the orchid’s growing medium. It thrives in not only the soil but all the various organic matter on a forest floor, such as decaying leaves and bark. And it seems to have a symbiotic relationship with fungus in that environment that allows the orchid to obtain nutrients. This is why you should never use a fungicide on the calypso orchid, as doing so can kill the beneficial fungus and ultimately the orchid itself.

If you are able to provide the proper growing medium for the orchids, they are fairly straightforward to maintain. They’ll mainly need regular watering if you don’t have sufficient rainfall, along with protection from strong sun and extreme heat.

Light

Calypso orchids grow naturally in the dappled light under trees on forest floors. So they should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Too much sun can scorch their leaves and cause discoloration. They grow well in partial sun to shade.

Soil

The orchids’ natural habitat on forest floors typically contains lots of loose organic matter. Thus, they prefer a light, rich growing medium with a slightly acidic soil pH. The growing medium also must have good drainage. 

Water

These plants like evenly moist soil. So water whenever the growing medium begins to dry out, but do not overwater to the point that it remains soggy. Also, avoid using chlorinated water or water that is high in minerals, as this can damage or even kill the sensitive orchids. Watering with distilled water or collected rainwater is best for the plants.

Temperature and Humidity

Moderate to warm temperatures are ideal for calypso orchids. However, this is a hardy forest plant that actually can tolerate the wide swings in temperature within its growing zones. But prolonged exposure to heat above 80 degrees Fahrenheit can stress and eventually kill a plant. Moreover, the orchid does well in moderate humidity but also can handle higher levels of humidity. In dry conditions it is especially imperative to maintain even soil moisture.

Fertilizer

Avoid using fertilizer on these plants, as they are very sensitive to the addition of any extra chemicals and minerals in their environment. They should be able to get the nutrients they need from the organic matter in their growing media.

Types of Calypso Orchids

There are only a few varieties of calypso orchids, including:

  • C. bulbosa var. bulbosa: This variety occurs in Europe and Asia, from Scandinavia and Russia to Korea and Japan. It was the first variety discovered all the way back in 1753.
  • C. bulbosa var. speciosa: This is a high-altitude variety found in elevations up to 10,500 feet, primarily in subalpine forests of China and Japan as well as inner Mongolia.
  • C. bulbosa var. americana: This is one of two varieties found in North America, including in much of Canada and in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Alaska. It tends to grow in clumping colonies in forested areas. 
  • C. bulbosa var. occidentalis: This is the other North American variety, primarily found in Alaska, British Columbia, and down along the West Coast. It likes the cool, foggy, coastal areas, though it is also found slightly inland.