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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Orchids of Colorado

June 12th, 2013 · 14 Comments

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Many people are surprised that orchids grow in Colorado. While they are common in the tropics, we also have them here in the cool mountains.

I have seen only two species of wild orchids in Colorado. But they are probably the most beautiful of at least 33 species of orchids that grow here. Scott Smith has photographs of each of them at Colorado Orchids. By comparison, subtropical Hawaii has only four species of orchids.

Another nature photographer who also lives in Boulder, Rich Wolf, brought those links to my attention. Even more importantly, when Rich found a Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) on the North Mesa Trail last week, he alerted me immediately. Later, he posted his photo essay at “Improbably Parasites on the Mesa Trail.”

I made sure to look for this orchid beauty as soon as I could and found it easily using Rich’s precise directions.

The Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) May Look Tall in this Photo, But They Don't Grow More Than 20" High

The Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) May Look Tall in this Photo, But They Don't Grow More Than 20" High

Click on the picture above to enlarge

This morning I found Colorado’s other exceptionally beautiful orchid. I made sure to return the favor and alerted Rich immediately.

Several stands of Fairy Slipper orchids were growing along the Beaver Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, just 30 miles southwest of Boulder. My friend Nancy and I left Tantra Lake at 5:30 in order to catch first light. The weather was sunny all right, but it was also cold, so cold in fact that both Nancy and I needed to wear jackets and gloves. Since the National Weather Service reported that the temperature had reached 99 degrees in Boulder yesterday, the cold weather in the mountains caught me by surprise.

A Small Stand of Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa)

A Small Stand of Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

This orchid is even smaller than the Spotted Coralroot, growing no taller than 8″. To capture the images below I had to lay down flat with my camera right on the ground.

A Side View of a Fairy Slipper also Known as a Calypso Orchid

A Side View of a Fairy Slipper also Known as a Calypso Orchid

Click on the picture above to enlarge
A Full Frontal View of Another Fairy Slipper Orchid

A Full Frontal View of Another Fairy Slipper Orchid

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The Fairy Slipper is an endangered species, according to Wildflowers of Colorado Field Guide by Don Mammoser. Another book, Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Pocket Guide by David Dahms, says, “You should consider yourself very lucky if you see this spectacular flower.” I am lucky.


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Posted in: Photography

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Susan Schinner // Jun 8, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    We have a home in echo hills off 103 near mount Evans. On our property we have found about a 1 1/2 square patch of the fairy slipper

  • 2 David Mendosa // Jun 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Dear Susan,

    You are so lucky!



  • 3 Ann // Jun 15, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Yesterday I bent over to re-tie my boot and came face to face with a spotted coralroot. Just north of COS in the foot hills. Of course I took a picture. If you’d like a picture of it, send me an email.

  • 4 Ann // Jun 15, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Let me add that I didn’t know what it was at the time, just that it looked suspiciously like a wild orchid. In doing some research (okay, direct hit on your page) To my delight, it was an orchid. My botany skills are not up to what they should be but glad I still can recognize a few flowers!
    I have seen some Fairy Slippers near one of the Colorado 10th Mountain Division huts but didn’t realize it was an orchid. Nice.

  • 5 David Mendosa // Jun 15, 2015 at 10:44 am

    I would indeed like to see your picture, Ann. Thank you for your offer.

  • 6 James Cederberg // Jun 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    I spotted a single Calipso close to the path from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake, out of Aspen, a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t fully open, but was clearly identifiable. Would send you a picture if you would like.

  • 7 David Mendosa // Jun 30, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Thanks, James. Please do send me a photo! My email address is [email protected]

  • 8 Aaron Medenwald // Jul 2, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    I found a small patch at my families home in Silver Plume Colorado the first week of June. Ill have my girlfriend send you some pics

  • 9 David Mendosa // Jul 3, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Thanks, Aaron.

  • 10 Sarah N // Jul 27, 2015 at 9:07 am

    5 or 6 years ago (maybe longer), we came across a pair of Fairy Slippers at RMNP, and that was the last time I saw these orchids… until 3 weeks ago in the Sangre de Cristos!

    Then last week we stumbled upon Coralroot, also in the Sangres; it was my first time recognizing them. I think it’s the Spotted.

    I can privately send photos and trail info if you wish.

  • 11 David Mendosa // Aug 3, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Yes, please send me your orchid photos, Sarah. My email address is [email protected] and thank you.

  • 12 Teri Murray // Jun 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Hello, I spotted aFairy Slipper orchid this weekend. I isolated it so nothing could step on it but am curious if there is anything that can be done to propogate the spread of them. It was a solitary plant near where we keep our travel trailer. A first for me. Thank you.

  • 13 David Mendosa // Jun 12, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Teri, I believe that people have tried to propagate these orchids without succeed. It sure would be great if someone succeeded.

  • 14 Teri Murray // Jun 12, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Thank you, I was hoping there was a way to get them to spread, absolutely beautiful..