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Longlisted for the 2023 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
A kaleidoscopic journey into the world of nature’s most tantalizing flower, and the lives it has inspired.
The epitome of floral beauty, orchids have long fostered works of art, tales of adventure, and scientific discovery. Tenacious plant hunters have traversed continents to collect rare specimens; naturalists and shoguns have marveled at orchids’ seductive architecture; royalty and the smart set have adorned themselves with their allure. In Orchid Muse, historian and home grower Erica Hannickel gathers these bold tales of the orchid-smitten throughout history, while providing tips on cultivating the extraordinary flowers she features.
Consider Empress Eugenie and Queen Victoria, the two most powerful women in nineteenth-century Europe, who shared a passion for Coelogyne cristata, with its cascading, fragrant white blooms. John Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, cultivated thousands of orchids and introduced captivating hybrids. Edmond Albius, an enslaved youth on an island off the coast of Madagascar, was the first person to hand-pollinate Vanilla planifolia, leading to vanilla’s global boom. Artist Frida Kahlo was drawn to the lavender petals of Cattleya gigas and immortalized the flower’s wilting form in a harrowing self-portrait, while more recently Margaret Mee painted the orchids she discovered in the Amazon to advocate for their conservation.
The story of orchidomania is one that spans the globe, transporting readers from the glories of the palace gardens of Chinese Empress Cixi to a seedy dime museum in Gilded Age New York’s Tenderloin, from hazardous jungles to the greenhouses and bookshelves of Victorian collectors. Lush and inviting, with radiant full-color illustrations throughout, Orchid Muse is the ultimate celebration of our enduring fascination with these beguiling flowers.
About the Author
Erica Hannickel, a master gardener, is professor of environmental history at Northland College. The author of Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers and Empire of Vines: Wine Culture in America, she writes for Orchids magazine and blogs at www.orchidmuse.com. She lives in Wisconsin.
An entertaining romp through the history of human adventures with orchids. — Dominique Browning - Wall Street Journal
A charming, informative, and profusely, colorfully illustrated volume…A garden of delights. — Kirkus Reviews
Well-researched and beautifully presented, this book is sure to be popular with orchid enthusiasts and those who enjoy natural history. — Booklist
Vibrant…Hannickel's comprehensive, fascinating history is leavened with plenty of amusing tidbits. — Publishers Weekly
If flowers are how plants have sex, orchids are the sexiest ‘harlot-nymphs’ of them all, as Erica Hannickel reveals in this delightful and exquisitely explicit ode to orchidelirium. — Adam Leith Gollner, author of The Fruit Hunters
A fascinating survey of one of the world’s most intriguing (and provocative!) blooms, complete with lush illustrations and fascinating historical anecdotes. This book is an enchanting read for any gardener, house plant enthusiast, or history lover. — Jessica Roux, author of Floriography
A fun fascinating romp through the history of the world’s favorite flower. — Bruce Rogers, author of The Orchid Whisperer
Erica Hannickel’s gorgeously illustrated Orchid Muse is a reader’s delight—crammed with fascinating stories about everything orchid, from the pleasure gardens of the Chinese Empress Cixi to the shoguns of feudal Japan, a nineteenth-century female science fiction author with a passion for botany, the dime museums of Manhattan’s Tenderloin district, a little-known work by Charles Darwin, and the twelve-year-old slave boy who solved the mystery of vanilla pollination. This rich and delightful story of the voluptuous orchid is bound to convert all who encounter it to what the Victorians called orchidelirium.
— Rebecca Rupp, author of How Carrots Won the Trojan War
Here is a collection of stories made not only for those readers already passionate about orchids but also for the rest of us who had no idea of the history, drama, and sensual energy behind these flowers. At turns ambitious, entertaining, and surprising, Hannickel’s work rewrites the story of orchids to include women, queer people, and people of color from around the globe. Perhaps the greatest thing about this book is how it draws our focus to the intimate details of creation, inviting our gaze, seducing us into the voluptuous, delicate beauty of a natural world that ultimately—and more desperately than ever—depends on our care. — Paul Bogard, author of The End of the Night
Orchid Muse is a delightful assemblage of some of the less-known vignettes in orchid history. The cultural information and tips are a perfect jumping point for any reader who wants to take the enthusiasm she inspires for orchids beyond the pages of her book.
— George Guenther, Orchid Horticultural Curator, Atlanta Botanical Garden
Orchid Muse is a joyful reminder of why I fell in love with botany—a fascinating read for the expert and those who can hardly discern orchids from okra.
— Douglas Holland, Director, Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden
At a time when women’s rights are being challenged and there is increasingly strong socioeconomic disparity in the world, readers will particularly enjoy reading about Charles Darwin’s anti-slavery efforts through orchids and 1880s New York City’s Eden Musée, a dime museum 'crowded with orchid lovers whose favorite flowers had helped them pretend to transcend class and gender barriers for a time.' Each page of Orchid Muse offers new insight into the history of orchids.