Video: Time Lapse of Calypso bulbosa Orchid (Fairy Slipper) Flower Development and Seed Setting

The preview version on Youtube is embedded below:

Calypso bulbosa is an orchid that is native to my local area (Western Washington). It is thought to be difficult to use in gardening due to some very specific habitat requirements, but I managed to keep this one alive through two years, the second of which it bloomed. The logistics behind the development/blooming of its inflorescence are simultaneously familiar and other-worldly.

Roughly half-way through the video, after the flower had fully developed, I pollinated it using pollinia from another Calypso orchid. These orchids do not have a traditional anther with free pollen, but instead rely on small disks (usually 4 total, 2 of which are larger than the others) of embedded pollen, named pollinia.

Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of Calypso orchids. While attempting to extract nectar from the flower, their heads/upper bodies brush up against the pollinia, which then dislodge and stick to the bee. Just adjacent and slightly underneath the pollinia is the orchid’s stigmatic surface. The next time that the bee stops at a Calypso orchid, it may accidentally leave these acquired pollinia behind on the stigma, leading to pollination of the orchid.

Calypso orchids do not actually produce any nectar for the bees (only a fragrance to lure them in), so once a bee visits a flower, it remembers this and will not revisit the same flower twice.

You can see the inferior ovary of the orchid swell after pollination. It may swell quite a bit more than this and eventually dry out before splitting open and releasing its mature seeds.

This time-lapse was taken with 1 frame every 10 minutes, and plays back at 30 frames per second. Thus, 1 second of video is 5 hours real time.

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