The Orchid Thief

I’ve just finished reading The Orchid Thief: a True Story of Beauty and Obsession, by Susan Orleans. The book plunged me into a strange new world. The story and how she tells it is weird and wonderful and gripping.

Susan Orleans went to Florida to meet and write about John Larouche, who with a few members of the local Indian tribe, was charged with stealing rare orchids that he intended to clone.

Sure I’d heard of the Everglades in Florida, but knew next to nothing about them and had never heard of an area called the Fakahatchee. I’d never heard of an Indian tribe called Seminoles. I was aware that there had been a time of “tulip-mania” in Holland in the 16th century, but never knew that orchids could be a powerful force for obsession and addiction. Especially the elusive ghost orchid.

The book is so bizarre and funny and surreal that it seems only fitting that there is a film based on it. Not based on the story of the book though – it is the story of a film producer who struggles to turn the book into a movie. It is called Adaptation and stars Merryl Streep and Nicholas Cage. I can’t wait to see it.

The book was published in 1998, the film produced in 2002, so this is not breaking news except that it is a new discovery for me.

Two quotes I love:

The nursery owner petted each plant as we passed. ‘Hey John’, he said, ‘you know, I have hardly any orchids anymore. You know, I decided that orchid people are too crazy. They come here and buy an orchid and they kill it. Come, buy, kill. I can’t stand it. Fern people are almost worse, but the orchid people are – oh, you know. They think they’re superior.’ (p.38)

Martin said he was going to build a swamp scene with lots of vandas and a child-sized wooden dugout canoe. ‘It doesn’t have much connection to reality’, he said. ‘But then again, what does?’ (p.310)

The photo illustrating this posting is the only orchid plant in my garden. It hasn’t flowered for at least a decade, but I leave it in its pot where it seems happy and healthy. Maybe it’s a good thing it hasn’t flowered lately - I don’t want to risk an orchid addiction.


  1. That is indeed a wonderful book! I couldn't put it down.

    Be prepared, though--the movie has very little to do with the book. It's a good movie--it just isn't really about the story in the book.

  2. thanks for the warning Susan, I guess films need to be judged on their own merits anyway.

  3. As a recovering orchid addict I can attest that the book captures the orchid addiction accurately. It might be your saving grace that your cymbidium hasn't bloomed...

  4. I haven't a clue about orchids and suppose if I had one, it would sit outside in my garden in a pot, too. Except it gets COLD here in the winter! Jan

  5. Dear James, good luck with your orchid addiction recovery journey. I have visited your blog and your photos are truly amazing.

    Dear Jan, thanks for your comment, I so appreciate the interactivity.

  6. Hi Catmint, I was going to warn you of the same thing about the movie. If you know going in that it is so different, you won't be disappointed. I loved the book way more than the movie, BTW. I wanted to tell you that I have the orchid, the ghost orchid in my greenhouse. It is so small, it is just roots, no leaves and will probably never bloom for me either, HA

  7. Hi Catmint, I have my blog comments auto-emailed to me (do you have that set up for yourself? - very handy), and the word limit is more generous here than at blotanical, so maybe conversations are best this way. I get tired of seeing my pictures in a row when continuing a comment at blotanical. Maybe I need to do a farther-away shot or pick a flower shot instead! We're right around zero degrees F here for the next few days. Of course I waited to wrap my new wisterias until last night. It was a funny scene with my frozen fingers (gardening gloves apparently aren't designed for warmth) trying to tie twine and plastic sheets around the vines while wind gusts were tugging and pulling at everything. I felt very grateful for a heated house afterward. As I pulled into the garage today, I noticed one poor rose bush with shriveled leaves still attached that really seemed to be shivering in the wind, poor thing. Then I was very grateful for a garage. So I'll just be here inside with my cabin-fevered kids, feeling grateful for protection during harsh weather. Enjoy your mild winter for me! - VW

  8. Hi Frances, that is so cool, that you really have the mysterious elusive ghost orchid! It is just as well it won't flower because it sounds quite dangerously seductive.

  9. Hi VW, I think I now have the comments auto emailed, so that should help my confusion. I love hearing about your garden life with its dramatically different weather. We have just started what will probably be a long hot dry summer - today it is 30 - I don't know what that is fahrenheit but it is hot.
    Re the wisterias, I found it fascinating that you need to wrap them, and I plan to write a post on my long struggle with wisterias, which is a life and death struggle, me nastily wanting their death but they always coming back from the brink. CM

  10. Several years ago I had to decide whether I would be a specialist gardener or a generalist. After dipping my toe in the world of orchids I soon decided that being a generalist was preferable. Specialist collectors are obsessives and a little mad, and their gardens reflect their mental state. Like you I enjoyed the book.


Post a Comment