Orchid: A Cultural History

Hardcover | November 7, 2016

byJim Endersby

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At once delicate, exotic, and elegant, orchids are beloved for their singular, instantly recognizable beauty. Found in nearly every climate, the many species of orchid have carried symbolic weight in countless cultures over time. The ancient Greeks associated them with fertility and thought that parents who ingested orchid root tubers could control the sex of their 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?
 
Following the stories of orchids throughout history, Jim Endersby divides our attraction to them into four key themes: science, empire, sex, and death. 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. He 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 he 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 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 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.

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At once delicate, exotic, and elegant, orchids are beloved for their singular, instantly recognizable beauty. Found in nearly every climate, the many species of orchid have carried symbolic weight in countless cultures over time. The ancient Greeks associated them with fertility and thought that parents who ingested orchid root tubers ...

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.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.07 × 6.07 × 1.2 inPublished:November 7, 2016Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022637632X

ISBN - 13:9780226376325

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

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?
    Acknowledgments
    Notes
    Bibliography
    Index

Editorial Reviews

“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.”