Saturday, December 9, 2006

Plant Lust: The Sexy World of Orchid Conservation

Book Review -
Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy

Eric Hansen’s book Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy, is an exciting introduction to the world of orchid smuggling and conservation legislation. He begins the book with a critical tone, always eager to make fun of any unsuspecting orchid fanatic he stumbles upon. I read the first few chapters with a cringing smirk. His writing is at times witty and he compares orchid people to their plants in much the way one looks at pictures of people with their dogs to see how much they resemble one another.

It really seems that Hansen’s biggest skill is making orchid people sound like old lascivious plant-o-philes. During his five years of extensive research for the book, he attended a great variety of orchid shows. He always describes these as obscene carnal peep shows, where orchids parade in front of drooling spectators. Here is an example of one such description from an orchid show he attended in California.

"Mmmmmm…luscious…,” someone gasped nearby. One slide showed a large vini-colored paphiopedilum madiae-type hybrid. “I’m in love!” Cried out a woman. “I’ll take it,” declared an elderly male voice from somewhere in the back. (35)
Aside from literally describing orchid shows as adult theaters, Hansen also tends to describe orchid flowers in great detail, comparing them with their counterparts in human genitalia. Despite the books misrecognition of orchid appeal, his descriptions are evocative and very sensual.

About mid-way through the book takes a sudden turn and Hansen becomes obsessed with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations on transporting endangered plant material. In what seems like an obvious rhetorical moves Hansen “goes native” and falls in love with his subjects. This is where the book becomes far more interesting. Hansen has talked to some of the major orchid Nurserymen and women. He exposes the hypocrisy at the root of the CITES regulations and the need for a different approach to orchid conservation.

His concern is primarily with Paphiopedilum orchids. He makes a strong case for the need to revise laws that prevent one from harvesting and transporting orchids before they are crushed under the wheels of bulldozers. In his opinion the CITES regulations are designed with an antiquated breed of Victorian orchid hunters in mind. Instead, today’s greatest orchid threat lies in mass urban and suburban development, slash and burn farming and overall depletion of orchid habitats worldwide. Small scale harvesting from threatened environments could lead to mass propagation strategies and the best way to save endangered jungle species is to prevent deforestation by setting aside preserves and sanctuaries. This can also be aided by bolstering local economies, so that they are not reliant on slash-and-burn agriculture and putting into place incentives that discourage massive deforestation and pollution: in my opinion.

Orchid Fever is a good introduction to orchid conservation. Each chapter is introduced with a wonderful orchid sketch and Hansen seems to have a vested interest in finding the depths of the orchid world. Despite his protestations, I would be surprised if Hansen did not keep at least one or two orchids in his apartment. I might be wrong, but I think that if you check under his mattress you’ll find a few glossy paphiopedilum pictures as well.


bluegrrrrl said...

Well, I won't chime in on the erotic nature of orchids...don't want to make you blush...but this post made me laugh! Sounds like a great book. One thing I know about orchid lovers (and I have known a few in my day) is that they are very passionate about their orchids!

Jonah Winn-Lenetsky said...

It was an interesting book. I'm glad this post made you laugh. I haven't been laughing much, because I was in bed all weekend with a terrible stomach flu. I'm just starting to feel better.

bluegrrrrl said...

I hope it didn't sound like I was mocking the post! It was a good laugh!

Did you get your flu shot? Lotsa stuff going around...I hope you are much better now! I catch everything my students bring into the classroom, even with a flu shot...