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Query re: "The Orchid Thief"


RE: Beth Cosgriff 's question about  the new book:  "The Orchid Thief" by
Susan Orlean    

Beth, I have not read the book from beginning to end.  I have skimmed it to
get the flavor, and stopped to read some interesting parts.  The writing style
is enjoyable -- the author has an eye for detail, whether it is in describing
people or places.  She does not describe any orchid with any detail, and
apparently does not know what the structural parts of an orchid are named or
which way is "up."  The thrust of the book is directed toward the uncontrolled
passions of collectors.  Laroche, apparently, has a "collector personality".
He began collecting turtles, then raising turtles.  Later, he was in a
tropical fish phase, and collected them by diving for them in the ocean.  [I'd
call 60 tanks an obsession.]  Later it was orchids, first the desire to
photograph every species growing in Florida, later to collect every species.
He has gone from one type of collection or impassioned devotion to a subject
to another.  A renunciation of one passion for another was complete.  [Orleans
relates, for example, that when he gave up the fish 17 years ago, it was not
enough to dispose of them.  He said he'd never set foot in the Atlantic again,
and even though he lives a couple of feet west of the Atlantic, he says he's
never stuck his big toe in the ocean again, according to Orlean.]

Floridians, esp. those who know the orchid growers [Fuchs, Fennell, e.g.] will
enjoy the vignettes of the numerous people interviewed and also descriptions
of orchid shows and tours of greenhouses.  The description of the Orlean's
visit with Dewey Fisk is neat.  [I hope you got a complementary copy of the
book, Dewey, for the tour of your screenhouse.]

This is not a treatise on plants.  [Orlean spells Aroid as "Aeroid", and
misspelled Dewey's Amorphophallus henrii.  So you can see, she's interested in
the people, places and passions, but plants are not her thing].  "The Orchid
Thief" is a study in why people would steal a plant protected by the
Endangered Species Act, or pay large sums of money for a rare plant.
Certainly, this is not a psychologist's analysis of obsession, but is an
enjoyable and very readable cruise through some interesting places, visits
with interesting people, descriptions of interesting features of parts of
Florida I've never seen.

As for the obsessions of collectors, I can understand what Orleans says about
collectors.  I have about 500 orchids.  It's hard for me to pass by special or
even just beautiful ones without wanting to have it follow me home --
especially if it's a multi-floral Phragmipedium or multi-floral Paphiopedilum.

Anyone who likes puns and wants to hear one about someone like Laroche, who
traded in his tropical fish for orchids, e-mail me directly, and I'll send it
to you.

Jeanne Hannah
Traverse City, Michigan
USDA Zone 5b





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