A grand total of 6,000 orchids celebrate the passion for orchids that reached its peak in the Victorian era, when plant collectors would risk life and limb (literally in the case of Benedikt Roezl) to seek rare blooms.
New Yorkers are treated this year to a spectacular display at the New York Botanical Garden until 17 April in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
A highlight is the massive waterfall, fringed by walls of vivid flowers. I’d be equally in interested in the Wardian Case dispaly, a portable greenhouse invented by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward that became a must-have piece of kit in its day.
Visitors can feast their eyes on a bewildering array of orchids, from the speckled Lady’s Slipper to the bright yellow Dancing Ladies and the star-shaped Madagascar that inspired Darwin himself. (Read more in this article I wrote one Christmas.)
And as for Roezl, he supposedly discovered 800 species during his travels in South and Central America, losing a hand during an incident in the jungle, claims an article. Undeterred, he replaced the missing limb with an iron hook and continued as an orchid hunter. He claimed that he was robbed at knifepoint no fewer than 17 times and even fought off a rabid jaguar in the forest.
Orchidelirium is still rife. Modern propagation techniques are resulting in new specimens and orchids are surpassing other species around the world as the most popular house plant. Last year an Emperor orchid sold at auction for $100,000 in the US.
The timing of the exhibition is especially appropriate for me personally, as it marks the anniversary of The Lost Orchid, my historical mystery based on the perilous escapades of plant hunters from the Victorian age.
It is 1885. Flora McPhairson teeters on the abyss of social disgrace but finds sanctuary at the home of her uncle, veteran plant collector-turned hybridiser.
But all is not well at the orchid houses in leafy Warwickshire. Soon Flora is drawn into a notorious world where fortunes are won – and lost – as orchid-mad society clamours for ever more exotic blooms, and ruthless dealers despatch their most determined and cunning plant hunters to the furthest reaches of the Empire.
In this hotbed of intrigue, deceit and danger, dark forces lurk in every shrubbery. Events take an even more sinister turn, and soon Flora and charismatic journalist William Carter find themselves in a deadly battle against ruthless foes as they battle to save the reputation of the nation itself.
Find the book on Amazon and Smashwords
For more about the dangerous world of plant hunters, visit The Lost Orchid blog.