By Janelle Eklund
It was a sunny warm day – one of those days to give you pause – to breath in and enjoy the trees shimmering in their new summer bright green dresses - to absorb the vibrancy of plants big and small. Visiting my friend, she led me to the end of an open slope where a patch work of purple/pink calypso orchids nodded their heads in the late afternoon breeze. We carefully made note of where we stepped, so as not to disturb the delicate balance of life inherent in these small beautiful fairy-like slippers. Yes, they do remind one of fairy slippers, another name commonly used. The lower lip of the plant has an open mouth resembling an open-heeled yellowish/white slipper lined with purple stripes. Protruding from the mouth of the slipper is a cluster of golden hairs with purple spots at their base. The ‘toe’ of the slipper is decorated with purple petals and sepals providing shade over the ‘slipper’. It can grow up to nine inches.
These little jewels are far and few between, making their debut in spring. They are so fragile that the slightest trampling or picking will kill the plant. Because they thrive off the soil fungus of their natural habitat they do not survive being transplanted.
These sweet little flowers give a sweet aroma which varies greatly from plant to plant, and changes as time flows by. Because of their wonderful color and variances in their sweet perfume, insects are attracted to them. But the insects are in for a surprise because these orchids do not produce any nectar. Bees must get very frustrated and discouraged as they go from plant to plant thinking the different smells will bring them sweet nectar. They haven’t gotten any personal satisfaction but what they have unknowingly done in their fruitless efforts is most likely cross pollinated one or more of this showy little plant.
Since these are rare and delicate plants I encourage you to step with care around them when you do come across them, and enjoy them in their home habitat. Survey the area with a microscopic eye before stepping. Find a place where you can sit or stand out of their harm’s way to observe. Get out your sketch pad again, or your camera, and transpose their beauty through your mind’s eye, or just sit, enjoy, and give thanks for them gracing you with their beauty.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.