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I rode Bittner Road out of Occidental with my family last weekend on our way to Doran Beach and spotted Calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa) blooming under the redwoods. I love spotting them at this time of year — and all the more so because I never knew any of these beautiful little orchids grew in Sonoma County until very recently even though I grew up traveling these roads (I developed my botanizing skills after college even though I liked plants and flowers from an early age, so perhaps I just didn’t know what to look for at the time).
I spotted my first Calypso orchids only last year, on Harrison Grade Road, west of Graton and enjoyed seeing them again as I cycled to catch up with the rest of my family. I’ve been surprised by a number of interesting plants that I likewise never noticed until returning to Sonoma County, such as pussy ears (Calochortus tolmiei), which also favors the redwoods, another Calachortus, golden globe lillies (C. amabilis — also known as golden fairy lanterns) around Lake Sonoma, and the showy canyon larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule) – which we also spotted on our ride as we returned on Coleman Valley Road.
I am mildly obsessed with orchids, particularly native, wild orchids. I love spotting them on hikes and even enjoy those past flowering as I call up a picture of what the blooms looked like in my mind’s eye — one of my wife’s standing jokes is an imitation of me calling out, “Ooh look! A dead orchid!”
So it was with great pleasure that I feasted my real eyes on a gorgeous stand of calypso orchids (Calypso bulbosa) growing alongside Harrison Grade Road near Occidental. My wife and I were on a weekend run and she spotted them as I was looking up toward the redwoods on the other side of the road. The calypso orchid is one of my favorites with its exotic, big, purple fringed flower on a tiny stalk. I’ve seen them on Mt. Tamalpais, but hadn’t been in the right spot in Sonoma County before. According to the USDA Fire Ecology Information System (FEIS) and other sources, the flower can be found blooming in California between March and July, though in low-elevation Sonoma County, most will bloom between March and May.
If you’re traveling on Harrison Grade Road, look for the orchids about 1/4 mile west of the Green Valley Road intersection. Other stands occur within the next quarter-mile west as well, though none were as abundant when we viewed them.