Book Review

The Orchid TheifMy first book of the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge I found through my natural history museum’s book club: The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.

From the Amazon website:
The Orchid Thief centers on south Florida and John Laroche, a quixotic, charismatic schemer once convicted of attempting to take endangered orchids from the Fakahatchee swamp, a state preserve. Laroche, a horticultural consultant who once ran an extensive nursery for the Seminole tribe, dreams of making a fortune for the Seminoles and himself by cloning the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii. Laroche sums up the obsession that drives him and so many others:

I really have to watch myself, especially around plants. Even now, just being here, I still get that collector feeling. You know what I mean. I’ll see something and then suddenly I get that feeling. It’s like I can’t just have something–I have to have it and learn about it and grow it and sell it and master it and have a million of it.

Even Orlean–so leery of orchid fever that she immediately gives away any plant that’s pressed upon her by the growers in Laroche’s circle–develops a desire to see a ghost orchid blooming and makes several ultimately unsuccessful treks into the Fakahatchee.

The Orchid Thief was certainly an entertaining read and shed some insight into the fanatical world of orchid collecting.  Although I did enjoy this book I was also a bit disappointed. I thought that this book would delve deeper into the case of Mr. Laroche and his quest to use the ambiguity of state laws in connection with the Seminoles as a way to poach thousands of orchids from state lands.  Instead, the author chose to focus on the obsession that some people develop with orchids, detailing the beginnings of large-scale orchid poaching during the Victorian period to the competition seen among modern day orchid nursery owners.  However, the writing style was certainly entertaining and it was an easy book to start off the New Year.


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