Extraordinary Orchids (Hardcover)
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Perching on tropical trees, partnering with fungi to reproduce, or deceiving birds and amorous insects to promote pollination, orchids fascinate. In the exquisitely illustrated Extraordinary Orchids, award-winning botanist and writer Sandra Knapp tells the stories behind some of the bizarre lifestyles and interactions that scientists have uncovered among many species of the orchid family.
Orchids deserve such a visual celebration: parts of the orchid flower have shapes unlike any other flowering plant, and the sheer number of species means they have a seemingly endless ability to create ever more fantastical forms. In fact, many orchid common names refer to the shape-shifting forms of their flowers—the “man-orchids” or “monkey-orchids” are so called because of their resemblance to the primate form. Orchids lend themselves to depiction, and botanical artworks of them abound. Who could resist painting or drawing such odd shapes?
Illustrated with stunning artwork, much from the archives of the Natural History Museum in London and never before published, Extraordinary Orchids includes depictions from celebrated botanical artists such as Ferdinand and Franz Bauer, Arthur Harry Church, and Sydney Parkinson, revealing the weird and wonderful lives of this most diverse of plant families.
About the Author
Sandra Knapp is a senior research botanist at the Natural History Museum in London and served as president of the Linnean Society from 2018-2022. She is the author of several books, including Flora, Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon, and The Gilded Canopy.
"Not everyone sets out to study orchids in the spirit of love. For botanist and writer Knapp, the approach was closer to disdain. She confesses to having been both 'fascinated and slightly repelled' by orchids, put off by this garishly dressed family—the second largest in the world with over 30,000 species. But the sweep, intelligence, and research on display in Extraordinary Orchids, a lavish, oversize volume, will surely push the reluctant closer to admiration. The profusion of paintings and drawings is impressive. . . . Knapp is an eloquent scientist, and she writes beautifully about the interconnected communities orchids inhabit—along with mosses, lichens, other plants, insects, and arthropods. . . . Her chapter on 'Life in the Air' should be read by every plant lover and science writer for a lesson on succinct clarity. Toward the end of her book, Knapp grudgingly admits that she now fancies orchids and, more important, is gravely concerned for their survival. Climate change, pollution, the destruction of forests, the irrecoverable extinction of orchid species, and, finally, the orchid hunters of today, eager to cash in on an insatiable market for plants, some as coveted as Tiepolos, traded illegally, and some, artificially propagated, sold in grocery stores—all are wreaking havoc on this family of flowers. This should not become the final chapter in humankind’s history with orchids. We can only hope—and act to protect those glorious seductresses."
— Dominique Browning
“Among the many fascinating bits of orchid trivia you will learn from eminent botanist Knapp is that their family name, Orchidaceae, derives from the ancient Greek word for ‘testicle,’ which is what the double-bulbed root of many European varieties resembles. And if you thought that orchids were just pretty prom corsages, you will be dazzled by their variety, from the simple single-leaf and purple blossom of the helmet orchid (genus Cranichis) to the elaborate swan-shaped blossoms of the bucket orchid (genus Coryanthes), which dangle from multiple stems like art-glass chandelier pieces. Knapp’s lucid text emphasizes the orchid family’s inventive adaptations in both form and function. Illustrated with rare prints and paintings from archival sources, many known only to collectors, the book, like its subject matter, is elegance incarnate.”
— Natural History
"Meticulously researched—as one would expect from Knapp, a senior research botanist at the Natural History Museum—this book is also lavishly brought to life with an abundance of artwork by a roll call of great botanical illustrators. . . . Full of captivating surprises and interesting information about this immense, diverse family of flowering plants."
— BBC Wildlife
"Stories behind Dracula orchids, rattlesnake plantains, fairy orchids, and other fantastical forms come together in this beautiful tome. . . . Striking a balance between informatively captioned illustrations and essays, this is as much a visual treat as it is an academic one."
— Country Life
"Extraordinary Orchids delves into the weird and wonderful lives of this most diverse and exotic of plant families. . . . Stunning."
— Flower Arranger
"In this captivating overview, Knapp covers the biology of both terrestrial and epiphytic (tree-dwelling) orchids and explains how epiphytes are adapted to living in trees, even using a special form of photosynthesis. . . . The heart of the work is its collection of stunning full-color drawings, many from the archives of the Natural History Museum in London, including illustrations depicting beautiful flowering orchid plants and scientific illustrations showing the anatomy of the plants. . . . Orchid fanciers will relish the gorgeous color plates; readers new to orchids will appreciate the information on orchid biology, culture, and history."
— Library Journal
“Orchid lovers, old and new, are sure to enjoy this stunning celebration of the world’s largest flowering plant family—their bizarre partnerships, their amazing beauty, their pollinators, their diverse habitats, and their wonderful coloration and shapes.”
— Meg Lowman, executive director, TREE Foundation, and author of "Life in the Treetops" and "It’s a Jungle Up There"
“Knapp is a terrific scientist and an excellent communicator of science to broad audiences. This book pairs her entertaining prose with the all-time greats of botanical illustration. Readers will also be delighted by the orchids themselves and their astonishing biology.”
— Sir Peter Crane, president, Oak Spring Garden Foundation
“An internationally acclaimed botanist and taxonomy expert, Knapp presents the legend and the lore, the data and the details . . . highlighted by exceptional, never-before-published treasures from the museum’s extensive archives.”
— Booklist, on Knapp's "Plant Discoveries"
“Scientific, historic, and cultural perspectives on plants that have been gathered from around the globe.”
— Science, on Knapp's "Plant Discoveries"