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Orchid: A Cultural History


By: Jim Endersby (Author)

288 pages, 15 plates with colour illustrations; 45 b/w illustrations

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Nov 2016 | #230668 | ISBN-13: 9780226376325
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 week Details
NHBS Price: £29.99 $38/€36 approx

About this book

At once delicate, exotic, and elegant, orchids are beloved for their singular, instantly recognizable beauty. Found in nearly every climate, the many species of orchids have carried symbolic weight in countless cultures over time. The ancient Greeks associated them with fertility and thought that a parent who ingested the orchid root could determine the gender of a child. During the Victorian era, orchids became deeply associated with romance and seduction. And in twentieth-century hard-boiled detective stories, they transformed into symbols of decadence, secrecy, and cunning. What is it about the orchid that has enthralled the imagination for so many centuries? And why do they still provoke so much wonder? To answer, Jim Endersby offers a unique cultural history of this captivating family of plants.

Following the stories of orchids throughout history, Endersby divides our attraction to them into four key themes: science, empire, sex, and death. He explore how these have shaped orchids and how orchids, in return, have shaped our own investigations and associations. When it comes to empire, for instance, orchids are a prime example of the exotic riches sought by Europeans as they shaped their plans for colonization. Endersby also reveals how Charles Darwin's theory of evolution became intimately entangled with the story of the orchid as he investigated their methods of cross-pollination. As Endersby shows, orchids – perhaps because of their extraordinarily diverse colors, shapes, and sizes – have also bloomed repeatedly in films, novels, plays, and poems, from Shakespeare to science fiction, from hard-boiled thrillers to elaborate modernist novels.

Featuring many gorgeous illustrations from the collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Orchid: A Cultural History tells, for the first time, the extraordinary story of orchids and our prolific interest in them. It is a tale sure to enchant not only gardeners and plant collectors, but anyone curious about the flower's obsessive hold on the imagination in history, cinema, literature, and more.


Introduction: Imagining Orchids
1 Censored Origins
    The Lesbian Boy
    The Uses of Orchids
2 Red Book, Black Flower
    Utopian Botany
    The Signature of All Things
3 The Name of the Orchid
    Making a Family
    A Second Adam
    Artificial to Natural
    Myths of Orchids
4 Orchidmania
    The Blooming Aristocracy
5 Orchis Bank
    Every Trifling Detail
    Beautiful Contrivances
6 The Scramble for Orchids
    Lost Orchids
    Cannibal Tales
7 Savage Orchids
    Long Purples and a Forked Radish
    Queer Flowers
    Creation and Consolation
8 Sexy Orchids
    Boy’s Own Orchids
9 Manly Orchids
    Frail Orchids
10 Deceptive Orchids
    Orchids in Orbit
11 Endangered Orchids
    Fragile Specialists
    The Spider Orchids of Sussex
Conclusion: An Orchid’s-Eye View?

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