Calypso bulbosa (fairy-slipper orchid) is enchanting in so many ways. Its appearance is delicately gorgeous. Its scent (when present) is vanilla sweet. The more you get to know this tiny orchid, the more fascinating it is.
Take, for example, its means of pollination.
Calypso bulbosa is what is known as a “deceptive” orchid, meaning that it lures insects in with the promise of nectar – through fragrance and showy colours – but then fails to deliver: it produces no nectar.
But this tiny orchid is completely dependent on insects (mostly bumblebees) to pollinate it. It does not reproduce vegetatively like some orchids; it only reproduces through seed.
Researchers have determined that fairy-slipper orchid depends on naïve bumblebees (ones that have just emerged and have no experience with the flower) to wiggle their way into the flower and pick up pollen. Since bumblebees are clever enough to figure out after a couple of visits that Calypso bulbosa flowers do not contain nectar, the ruse only works for so long.
Look for more on this intriguing species in future posts.