Monday, October 13, 2008
Fairy Slipper (Calypso Bulbosa)
Nestled within life protecting moss in the depths of a cold dark cedar swamp or encased in a thick duff on a coniferous forest floor, there can be found a fragile and exquisite orchid that can make a strong man cry.
John Muir, known as the Father of Conservation and the founder of the Sierra Club only once set eyes upon this rare jewel and it was an experience he described as one of the most memorable and impressive moments of his life. He regarded the fairy slipper as “the most spiritual of all the flower people”.
Once common enough to be consumed as food by the people of the Pacific Northwest, it has become an uncommon and memorable pleasure to any naturalist fortunate enough to discover one and they are indeed difficult to find. In late summer they put forth a single small round pleated leaf that hugs the ground. This leaf braves the vagaries of winter until it is joined, just after snowmelt, by it’s solitary nodding blossom. Painted in pink, yellow and white; spotted and striped; the slipper shape of its lower lip alludes to its common name. Permit yourself a moment to gaze at its exquisite form and then bend down, right down to fairy level, to catch the subtle scent of vanilla that wafts through the air.
Even the scientists have been beguiled by this beauty, so much so that they gave it the name “Calypso”, after Homer’s sea nymph in the Odessey, who, for seven years, seduced Ulysses from his journey.
This delicate and sensitive beauty should only be preserved in it’s likeness. To pick or transplant it means almost certain death of the plant. The fragile roots cannot withstand the most gentle tug and it thrives only in partnership with particular fungi.
Rejoice if you are fortunate enough to locate a fairy slipper and think of John Muir who cried upon finding this singular and elusive treasure.
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