Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy Hardcover – Feb 22 2000
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At first blush, the subtitle of intrepid traveler Eric Hansen's floral account might seem, well, hyperbolic. After taking this whirlwind tour of the hidden world of rare orchid collectors, the reader will find the words well chosen. Hansen invites us into a strange demimonde of intrigue and desire, at the center of which is the orchid, that shadowy and somewhat sinister parasitic oddball of the plant kingdom. Orchid raising and trading is big business. Worldwide, the retail economy in orchids adds up to some $9 billion; in the United States, wholesalers ship nearly 8.5 million plants a year, while in Holland a single nursery produces 18 million. "Several million people worldwide now grow orchids," the author notes, "and this botanical craze has already eclipsed both the nineteenth-century frenzy for orchids as well as the tulip madness that gripped the Netherlands in the seventeenth century."
With such willing customers, it's no wonder that a thriving black market now exists. To serve it, orchids are taken illegally from sensitive ecological areas in places like Thailand, Borneo, and darkest Minnesota. In scenes reminiscent of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, Hansen follows the trail of orchid smugglers, pursuing money and plants in a whodunit tale that involves botanical gardens, scholars, scientists, ordinary enthusiasts, and "plant cops"--international eco-police whose job it is to stop the traffic in rare and often endangered plants. Those vigilantes have their work cut out for them, Hansen writes, especially because some of the current laws may be misguided, causing more harm than good and equating honest breeders with botanical desperadoes. The laws are bound to fail in any event, he suggests, if only because the plant trade, like that of the drug trade, is simply too big to curtail.
Orchid enthusiasts and admirers of good journalism alike will find plenty of interest in Hansen's vivid, richly anecdotal investigation. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
In the same vein as Susan Orlean's Orchid Thief, this captivating tale is not so much about flowers as it is about obsession. In various chapters (some of which have appeared in Natural History magazine), Hansen (Stranger in the Forest; Motoring with Mohammed) examines different facets of the mysterious world of orchids, a universe of incredible subterfuge, erotic plant names and some very eccentric characters. He visits Borneo with two orchid growers and two Penan guides who are extremely puzzled about such enthusiasm over a flower that serves no medicinal or nutritive purpose. Hansen also interviews 84-year-old Eleanor Kerrigan, who in her Seattle basement greenhouse cultivates an illicit orchid collection worth $70,000. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has a strict policy about certain types of orchids, and many orchid growers and collectors, it turns out, operate on the wrong side of that policy, resulting in an underworld that, as the author notes, resembles the illegal drug trade. Hansen manages to talk to the secretive Henry Azadehdel (a cause c?l?bre in the orchid world since he was arrested for orchid smuggling in 1987) and travels to Turkey to taste orchid ice cream, which is rumored to be an aphrodisiac. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that after five years of research he has become as obsessed with his subjects as they are with their flowers ("Orchids were doing strange things to me"). The results are fully enjoyable. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
After reading this first sentence of Eric Hansen’s Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love. Lust, and Lunacy, you get the feeling that this book isn’t just a “how-to” instruction manual on orchid identification and care. Orchid Fever does go over how growers look after their prized possessions but Hansen is much more interested on how orchids affect collectors, growers, judges, “smugglers”, and seemingly normal people in bizarre, humourous, and, at times, tragic ways. In other words, how “orchid people” inevitably get the fever.
Orchid Fever ‘s chapters are small vignettes starring a particular orchid and various supporting characters, locales and events showing the “ill” effects this orchid has on people, Hansen included. In the chapter “The Orchid Judges”, Hansen describes the haughtiness and pettiness shown by “expert” orchid judges during a flower competition and compares such boorish behavior with the understated and modest love demonstrated by a father-daughter orchid grower team. It seems that he, himself, is not immune to the seductive nature of orchids and their growers:
"It wasn’t long before I noticed a young Chinese woman [named Teresa] with long black hair strolling down the main aisle of the exhibition. She was tall and slender; with fine features. Watching her pause to examine the plants in other booths, I got the sense that this was someone who had spent a lot of time with orchids. Teresa showed me one of her favorite orchids: Cymbidium sinense variety Faichow Dark. The plant blooms in February near the Chinese New Year, and it is often associated with that holiday.Read more ›
The book wraps up with a heartwarming tale of Tom Nelson in Minnesota, slogging through blackfly and mosquito infested roadside ditches to save native plants from destruction. Not out of money but because it is the right and noble thing to do. It is people like him that give a glimmer of hope in a world that can often cause despair. Eric Hansen's book also serves the same purpose and I highly recommend it!
As I read, I searched the Web for images of the blossoms (and some of the places) he described; this provided me with the perfect counterpoint to your lush prose. No doubt the cost of publishing a work with full-color photographs would be outrageous (and I am grateful for the affordability of the book), but I cannot imagine having grasped his meaning as fully without sneaking a peek for myself. Doubtless other readers have been, and will be likewise compelled.
I am so grateful for the years Hansen put into this book. He has sparked in me a gentle strain of orchid fever, nonetheless one that will surely follow me through life.
Hansen meets people whose obsessions vary greatly from others he met. A Japanese real estate developer developed such an obsession with orchids that, when his house was demolished by an earthquake, he ran to his greenhouse to check his orchids, and then stopped to wonder where his wife was amidst the rubble. Tom Nelson falls on the opposite end of the spectrum and saves orchids by going to sites where orchids will be destroyed, and collects and replants them. Hansen meets the people who make orchid ice cream, the people travel to different orchid shows, and the man whose greenhouse "runs on a high-tech life-support system that controls light, heat, cooling, and humidity by computer."
Even a person with no interest in orchids can enjoy the adventure in this story. Hansen is a clever writer with a quick wit. "It was a crazy, whacked-out group of people, and whether I liked it or not, I could not get enough of them."
Most recent customer reviews
Shows why CITES NEEDS less lawyers and instead biologistsPublished 17 months ago by Klaus Molthagen
What a tremendous read - I had to keep reminding myself it was non-fiction! Eric, I really was entertained.Published on Jan. 28 2004
I'm a guy. I don't raise orchid, own orchids or even really have an interest in orchids. Regardless, this was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Read morePublished on Sept. 3 2003
After reading Hansen's Motoring with Mohammed, I vowed to read everything and anything he writes or has written. Read morePublished on July 18 2003 by Peggy Vincent
Orchids, my next great obsession! If you are thinking about bowing to Lady Flora, read this book. Either as a how-to, or a cautionary tale, hear bodies crashing down thru the... Read morePublished on June 12 2003 by D. Rose
I just finished reading Orchid Fever and I really enjoyed it. It was recommended to me by an orchid dealer from whom I recently bought my first orchid (a Brachia veracosa- a second... Read morePublished on May 27 2003 by Holly A. Lenz
The name said it all. "Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy" is one multi-faced novel which most readers would either cherish or dislike. Read morePublished on Jan. 21 2003 by reviewer