At first glance, Rare and Exotic Orchids: Their Nature and Cultural Significance seems yet another science book discussing the botany and natural history of orchids; but Joel L. Schiff's added focus on their cultural importance and why international communities around the world take special note of orchids adds an extra dimension to the subject.
Orchid aficionados will find Rare and Exotic Orchids's different approach eschews the more common attempt to classify and cover thousands of species in favor of a more concentrated profile of selected exotics which represent some of the rarest plants on Earth.
An opening history of orchids from ancient to modern times moves into botanical discussions of orchids, those who grew, studied, and wrote about them, and their place in a range of international societies.
From discoveries of new exotic orchids and how individual plants captured different hearts and minds to early explorers who ventured into unknown territory in search of new species, Joel L. Schiff brings to life not just the science surrounding orchids, but the human process of recognizing, cataloging, and appreciating them.
While science readers will appreciate the wealth of visual illustrations and technical discussions that reveal controversies as well as insights into orchid biology, technical details are juxtaposed with lively debates, discussions, history, and facts that even casual orchid fans or newcomers to the topic will find surprisingly easy to understand.
Schiff's high-quality images of exotic orchids (many of which are unique to his orchid book) nicely supplement facts that include the latest DNA research on orchids and their deceptive evolutionary behaviors, nicely complimenting the discussions of historical and scientific conundrums.
It's this approach, combined with lovely close-up color photos throughout, which makes Rare and Exotic Orchids a recommendation not just for professionals or botany libraries, but for general-interest readers who will enjoy a highly accessible study that invites an in-depth interest in orchids and their importance to human affairs.