Calypso bulbosa grows in mossy woods and open areas in the boreal zone, and although it has one of the showiest flowers in our flora, this small, uncommon orchid can be easily overlooked. Calypso bulbosa has a solitary flower above a leafless stem, and one basal leaf. The plant grows from a bulb-like corm, and reaches up to 15 cm in height. The plant's leaf is ovate, parallel veined and shiny green, 3-6.5 cm long, tip short acuminate. Stems have 2-3 brown sheaths. The flower, as in in all orchids, is bilaterally symmetric with highly specialized morphology. The sepals and upper petals are narrow, pink, 12-23 mm long; the lip is inflated, slipper-like and bearded, with dark red spots and a yellow center. The flowers are strongly scented. Seed pods are elliptic, longitudinally ridged, containing hundreds of tiny seeds. The other orchid in the park with a single large, spotted flower is Cypripedium guttatum. However, Cypripedium has two large basal leaves (not one), the lip is not bearded and the flower lacks narrow upper pink petals making the two easily distinguishable.
Calypso bulbosa blooms in late spring when the bumblebees first emerge (Boyden 1982). Plants are perennial, but ephemeral, new flowering stalks emerging every year.
Calypso bulbosa relies on deception to reproduce. Though it produces colorful, sweet-scented flowers, they contain no reward of pollen or nectar for insect visitors. Like all orchids, the pollen is conglomerated into 'pollinia', two sticky packages that adhere themselves to whatever forces its way into the flower. Bees have to be the large enough in order to get the pollinia stuck to them. Bees quickly learn that plants offer no food rewards, and avoid Calypso flowers—strongly decreasing their chances of being pollinated. In a study in Alberta, only 1% of 843 examined plants had been pollinated (Boyden 1982). Plants can also spread asexually by rhizomes.
Many attempts to transplant C. bulbosa into home gardens have been made, which almost inevitably result in death of the plant due to its sensitivity to root damage, and reliance on mycorrhizal fungi to supply nutrients. Seeds are available from some nurseries.
Calypso bulbosa is an incompletely circumpolar species (circumboreal) that occurs across most of boreal North America and also in parts of Europe and northern Asia. Calypso orchid occurs from Alaska down the west coast and the Rockies to California, New Mexico and Arizona, eastward across all the Canadian provinces and territories, south to New York, Michigan and Wisconsin. In Alaska, this species occurs in central Alaska north and south of the Alaska Range, primarily in the Tanana River drainage, as well as in Southeast Alaska. In some cases, this species can be locally abundant, but it is often locally rare. In Denali, Calypso bulbosa has been found in sites along the Kantishna and McKinley Rivers and near Park Headquarters.