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Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy [Hardcover]

Eric Hansen
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 22 2000
A seductive journey into the obsessive, outrageous, and mesmerizing world of orchids.

From the steaming jungles of Borneo to the hallowed hallways of Kew Gardens, from the clandestine orchid nurseries of Europe to the peat bogs of northern Minnesota, here are luscious, sexy flowers, orchid smugglers, fist-fighting botanists, moths with twelve-inch-long tongues, and government officials who raid orchid nurseries with attack dogs and automatic weapons. Strange tales of insect pollinator fidelity, the orchid ice cream makers of eastern Turkey, and man-crushing killer orchids weighing half a ton are blended with stories about a wide range of gentle people whose passion in life is the creation of scented, fragile flowers.

Eric Hansen spent seven years exploring the far corners of the earth -- marveling at flowers of uncommon beauty, studying the history of the orchid trade, and grappling with the vicious, bizarre, and petty world of plant politics that sometimes makes it impossible to protect endangered species. Hansen brings to life the colorful flowers and the even more colorful people who are attracted to them, as he illuminates a funny, weird, and poignant world of horticultural passion and pathos.

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From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
"There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from the rain forest canopy."

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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Orchid Lunacy March 4 2004
Eric Hansen's Orchid Fever is a quick, breezy and highly entertaining read. I just picked up a copy at one of the Orchid Gardens mentioned in the book, and will never look at the place the same way again. As with any avocation that stirs passion, the world of orchids has produced as many oddball varieties of aficionados as there are varieties of orchids. Hnasen brings them all wonderfully to life and you feel like a friend to many of them (except for the CITES nazis). Being relatively new to the orchid world I was able to appreciate the references to certain species, but by no means do you have to grow or even like orchids to love the book. I read the book in a day and my thoughts today have drifted to wondering about the characters that I had met, such as Xavier in Paris and the Harley-riding guys in the States that have been infected by the Orchid Fever.
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!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Orchid Fever Jan. 29 2004
By A Customer
What a tremendous read - I had to keep reminding myself it was non-fiction! Eric, I really was entertained.
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5.0 out of 5 stars It Gives Me Fever Jan. 24 2004
This morning at around two AM, I polished off the last page of 'Orchid Fever'. As a budding author and a generally inquisitive person, I appreciated this work very much. What Hansen has accomplished is a triumph in the field of literary journalism: the perfect balance of interview, research, politics, imagination and anecdote. He has availed his readership of such a wide array of facts, and made them so accessible--! Running through those pages was as effortless as taking in a deep, clean breath of air, yet that single breath has left me so happy and fulfilled...
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantasic Book Sept. 4 2003
By A Customer
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. It is very interesting to read about the crazy word of "orchid people." I had no idea there was so much politics, passion, intrique, prison-time etc associated with orchids. Eric Hansen has a very smooth, intelligent and interesting style. I think almost anyone would get a kick out of this interesting book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to love orchids to love this book July 18 2003
After reading Hansen's Motoring with Mohammed, I vowed to read everything and anything he writes or has written. So I had to read Orchid Fever (don't get it confused with Orchid Thief), a novel about greed, thievery, skullduggery, incomprehensible gov't regulations, and an underworld of orchid fanciers/growers that rivals the drug trade. Populated with eccentric characters and devoted fanatics, Orchid Fever makes for fascinating reading.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Ode to Flora
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 more
Published on June 13 2003 by D. Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
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 more
Published on May 27 2003 by Holly A. Lenz
4.0 out of 5 stars Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen
When two men asked him to return to Borneo to help find a species of orchids, Eric Hansen didn't know he would be [drawn] into the orchid world. Read more
Published on April 17 2003 by Lindsay from Adrian
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 more
Published on Jan. 21 2003 by reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Orchid Fever
Orchid Fever is a great read. It is engaging, funny, informative, and outrageous. The author takes the reader into the hidden world of orchids introducing growers, breeders,... Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2003 by Barbara Sentovich
5.0 out of 5 stars A compulsive and an essential read!
Whether you happen to be an orchid lover, or merely a curious bystander, "Orchid Fever (A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy)" will have you by turns helpless with mirth... Read more
Published on July 26 2002 by Steve Benner
5.0 out of 5 stars The Latest from One of Our Finest Contemporary Writers
If Eric Hansen were to publish a shopping list, I would read it. He is a superb writer, and he displays his talents to perfection in "Orchid Fever. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2002 by Sundareshvar
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