Captured by Calypso

She-who-must-be-obeyed and I had a short break in Jasper in May, and on one of our morning walks, we came across some Calypso orchids. These are small orchids with a circumpolar distribution. Each plant usually bears only a single bloom on a 10 to 15cm long stem that rises out of a single 3 to 5cm pleated basal leaf. The Calypso orchid grows from a single bulb-like corm that has a few slender roots that are dependent on mycorrhizal fungi. The bloom consists of a pouch-like and lobed labellum with five slender sepals and petals. The distribution is circumpolar.

There were a few single specimens sparsely distributed near the trailhead (I will keep the location secret because these orchids are very susceptible to disturbance and subject to harvesting for the international orchid collectors trade), and we were delighted to find them. I struggled to find a good specimen near the path that was not surrounded by grass or other distracting plants or twigs. I was looking for a nice uniform background and eventually managed to get a satisfactory shot of a bloom, despite the wayward breezes.

Fairy slipper, Venus slipper orchid. Calypso bulbosa (L.) Oakes (Orchidaceae)

Calypso bulbosa (L.) Oakes (Orchidaceae), with a background of grey lichen and pine needles.

After that photo session, we moved on. Eventually, we reached a lake and began to explore the rocky shore. While I was taking some bug photos my wife moved on out of sight. Later, as I was trying some intimate landscape images, I heard her calling out to me. Not sure what to expect, I bounded across the rocks like a true hero, expecting to have to rescue a bull moose or grizzly bear from her disapproval. As I neared her she waved me over to a shrubby patch. I tiptoed over, camera at the ready. I cautiously peered into the thicket, and then reeled back in surprise. Rather than the skunk I was expecting, there, on the ground, was a huge …(wait for it)

…patch of fairy slippers!!!! Yes, the same Calypso orchids that I had been struggling to photograph before were now spread before me like a grand feast on the table of the gods.

Patch of Calypso orchids

Patch of Calypso orchids

Photographing a patch this size effectively has its own problems. It can be hard to find a pleasing composition which that doesn’t have a background cluttered with more orchids!

natural light macro set-up

My setup for natural-light macro photography. If sunny, a diffuser would be held over the subject.

I played with depth of field to try to isolate an attractive scene, with varying success. After spending half an hour photographing orchids in this patch, we moved on again. We found several other groupings, but none compared in size this group. Below are some of the resulting images, that please me in different ways.

Calypso Orchids

Selective focus: Calypso orchids.


Portraits: 3/4 face and profile view of Calypso

Portraits: 3/4 face and profile view of Calypso

These orchid flowers are an example of deceptive pollination, in that they have the colour and scent to attract bees, but there is no nectar reward. Bees do learn to avoid these flowers, but in the process, they have already delivered the pollinia (a pollen package) to another orchid so fertilization can be successful.


William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865) from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. vol.54 (N.S. 1) pl. 2763. “Fig. 1. Side view of the Lip. 2. Column of fructification. 3. Ditto, the Anther-case being removed, and exposing the Pollen Masses in situ. 4. Anther-case. 5. Front view of the Pollen Masses. 6. Back view of ditto.— Magnified.”

Below, Jan Styka‘s image of Calypso. Certainly, She-who-must-be-obeyed would approve, “It must be SPF 50 she’s applying”, she would say.

Goddess Calypso promises immortality to Odysseus

“Goddess Calypso promises immorality immortality to Odysseus“, by Jan Styka.

(Calypso is the nymph (a nature spirit) from Greek mythology, who kept Odysseus captive on the island of Ogygia for several years. At some point (perhaps when suffering from sunstroke?) this hero begins to miss his wife, Penelope. The goddess Athena, his protector, asks Zeus to release Odysseus from the island, and, in concordance with the Chain of Being, Zeus sends the messenger Hermes to tell Calypso to set Odysseus free. Protesting, she complains how the gods hate it when goddesses apply sunscreen to mortals, but she finally submits to the will of the Master of the Universe and sends Odysseus packing.)

References and additional information:

The North American Orchid Conservation Center

H. C. Proctor, L. D. Harder. Pollen load, capsule weight, and seed production in three orchid species. Canadian Journal of Botany, 72(2) (1994) pp. 249-255, 10.1139/b94-033

Juha Tuomi, et al. Pollinator Behaviour on a Food-Deceptive Orchid Calypso Bulbosa and Coflowering SpeciesThe Scientific World Journal 2015 (2015): 482161. PMC. Web. 11 July 2016.

R. S. Currah, S. Hambleton and A. Smreciu. Mycorrhizae and Mycorrhizal Fungi of Calypso bulbosaAmerican Journal of Botany Vol. 75, No. 5 (May 1988), pp. 739-752

Sonja L. Reeves, 2005. Calypso bulbosa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [2016, July 7].


This entry was posted in Alberta, Canada, Equipment, macro, Natural Light, Orchidaceae, photography, Plants, Pollination, Season, Selective focus, Spring and tagged , , , , , .


  1. Annie Pang 12 July, 2016 at 2:09 AM #

    Great pics, neat commentary and I love the jokes about sunscreen! Ha! Good one Adrian!

    • Adrian 12 July, 2016 at 6:11 AM #

      Thanks Annie! I get a bit strange sometimes…glad that someone still takes the time to read it!

  2. Dr Raymond J C Canno 12 July, 2016 at 11:06 AM #

    Beautiful orchids and lovely photographs. Now I know why I don’t get such good results just hand holding my camera and macro lens! But your set up must be quite heavy to carry around? Perhaps not.

    • Adrian 12 July, 2016 at 2:09 PM #

      This was a relatively short walk, so I had quite a bit with me. The tripod is carbon fibre, and relatively light, but definitely worth the effort if you are into wildflowers, fungi , mosses and lichens. A travel tripod will do in most cases, one that allows for set-up close to the ground.

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