Books: The Orchid Thief

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (1998) by Susan Orlean


The book stars with John Laroche and three Seminole accomplices on trial for stealing orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in Florida. While the Seminole tribe had hired Laroche to run a nursery as a standard money-making venture, Laroche was more interested in making millions by cloning ghost orchids in the nursery’s lab. (You can probably guess how that turned out.)

The story is just as much about the state of Florida and the world of orchid lovers as it is about Laroche. In the course of telling Laroche’s story, Orlean touches on Florida land-development schemes, theft of pre-Columbian art, orchid explorers early and modern, feuds within the orchid world, botany, conservation, and law. She even wades into the Fakahatchee in hopes of seeing a ghost orchid in bloom.

The book is almost 20 years old, but it didn’t feel dated. Orlean is a talented writer, and although some readers may feel the book is too much of a smorgasbord, I found most of her tangents fascinating.


According to Native Orchids of Minnesota (2012) by Welby R. Smith, Minnesota has 49 native orchid species. So far, I haven’t been bit by the orchid bug, but here’s an article about a Minnesota botanist working to save the state’s rare orchids.