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Orchid: A Cultural History


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About the Author

Jim Endersby is a reader in the history of science at the University of Sussex. He is the author of A Guinea Pig's History of Biology and Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science.


"In his book Orchid: a Cultural History, Jim Endersby explains how people ate orchid roots in a dish, ground them up and drank them in wine or goat's milk -- to incite lust or suppress it; to have male children or female children or none at all. In ancient Thessaly, they were rumoured to use orchid roots to both cure and cause venereal disease. Pity the poor orchid for being so misunderstood! There are still orchids blooming on the shores of the Mediterranean, and if you look at what they're doing, a separate, intricate world is revealed. The flowers are advertising sex alright -- just not with us in mind!"--CBC Radio
"In this account, stories of how the mysterious orchid has gradually become known to science are inseparable from the peculiarities of orchid morphology and reproduction as much as from societal shifts in religion, class, gender, colonialism, and industrialization. Through this wide scope, from literature and cinema to herbaria specimens, from ancient Greek plant lore to today's pressing anxieties about climate change, Orchids raises important questions about how to account for the long expanses, complexities, and dramatic shifts of botanical history--and why it matters. It is at once eloquent, illuminating, accessible, and witty."--H-Net Reviews
"Orchid: A Cultural History explores the associations that have endowed this flower with significance, and describes how the orchid's identity has run the gamut from romance and seduction to decadence and cunning. Endersby understands the importance of making science accessible to a general audience, and in Orchid he initially grabs readers' attention by emphasizing the plant's historic identity as an aphrodisiac."--The Weekly Standard
"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 an enchanting tale not only for gardeners and plant collectors, but anyone curious about the flower's obsessive hold on the imagination in history, cinema, literature, and more."--Pollinia
"Orchid compellingly demonstrates that the cultural history of these plants is as strange, wonderful, and varied--and as full of sexual mystery--as orchids are themselves. The relationships between the stories of orchids told by scientists and those told by writers, filmmakers, collectors, and journalists prove to be, like the relationships between orchids and their pollinators, overwhelmingly cases of cross-fertilization."--Jonathan Smith, University of Michigan-Dearborn

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