The outer cover labels this book as a field guide, and the first topic following the introduction is a brief one-page history of the orchid family. Fine. This may be just another "field-guide-picture-book" about orchids, but don't jump to conclusions too quickly. While this book's too big to fit within a shirt pocket, and smaller than many of those "normal" full-sized books on a bookshelf, within the next several pages the reader is pulled headlong into the deep waters of conservation, biodiversity, the protection of species, ecosystems, orchid biology, and orchid habitats!
In this reviewer-editor's opinion, this book holds a lot more potential than merely a simple little field guide! Yes, I worked slowly through the key (pp.37-39), checking it against each of the 36 Manitoba orchids illustrated, and the key gets high marks. Somebody's put a lot of thought into making a very good word-map! However, one strongly suspects many orchid hunters will either recognize most of the orchids on sight, or will rapidly thumb through the book until they find the one that matches what they've found,...then they'll compare it with a few others. Then they may consult the key. People tend to follow the old philosophy of, if all else fails, read the instructions!
Nit-picks, Gripes, Minuses, and Pluses:
Offering suggestions and giving nit-picking criticisms regarding any already-printed book is easy. It's also a bit like being one of the genius types who always have reasons for the stock market's performance of yesterday, but are wondrously silent about what it'll do tomorrow, or it's potential for next week. So before going into this book's "tomorrows," this reviewer is going to play the critic about its contents. It has no line drawings. In general, so what? This is a book for the field oriented orchid hunter, not the laboratory botanist. Likewise, although the book doesn't give lists of locations by longitude and latitude, it doesn't need to. The range maps, are well-displayed and are a good combination of field worker experience and records from various herbaria. Another plus is the abundance of close-up photographs. Most books never seem to have enough really good close-up photographs, and this one's an exception. A number of excellent figures stood out particularly for this reviewer: Lorne Heshka's large figure of Amerorchis rotundifolia (p.42); Ian Ward's photos of Goodyera tesselata (p.94), and Listera borealis (p.102); and Richard Reeves close-up of the buds of Platanthera hookeri (p.121); and Ian Ward (again) with Spiranthes magnicamporum (p.142). On the downside, a few more definitions (bog and fen come to mind) might have been included in the glossary,...particularly for foreigners.
Shortcomings: Suppose a friend picks up my copy of the book and thumbs through it. The book has no ready reference as to its price or where one might mail to buy a copy. Worse, the website address of the Native Orchid Conservation Inc is relegated to only the last page of the book! This reviewer strongly suggests including both a snail-mail address and the website address on a sheet just inside the front cover. As well, the book might have included some information regarding when and where the Native Orchid Conservation group regularly meets (if, indeed, they do have regular meetings), and how one might become a member of the organization. True, all this information may be on a website, but individuals still exist who know little about such things as websites, and they're afraid to get on the information highway lest they get run over. As a matter of fact, some orchid-interested individuals who don't even own a computer! They're few in numbers, but they do exist, and they buy and read books! One thing more: the telephone number for the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre is listed on page 158, but what about the casual tourist who sees and photographs a flower, only to identify it as an orchid after returning to the "South 48." What's the area code for Manitoba? Yes, I looked it up: it's 204. I know this is a nit-picking criticism, but its inclusion might help garner an otherwise missed call. The book has a water-resistant soft cover. That's a plus for the field, while it's a minus for the library-oriented purist who prefers hard covered books. No, the book won't fit into a shirt pocket, but it might fit into the large side pocket of a field jacket, and the soft cover helps keep the price down.
Even if you're from the Deep South of the "South 48" (or even one of the northern parts of the "South 48") it's a worthwhile book to buy, read, and keep in your library. As a matter of fact, it's also a good book to have in your local orchid society's library provided you can find out where to order a copy and how much to send to cover the book's cost and shipping charges.
Overall: the book's well done and deserves a wider market than one suspects it will see. The abundance, flowering times, habitats, and species descriptions, aids to identification for each species are in good order and well worded. The range maps provide a good overview of the likely area of each species, although this reviewer has some doubt he'll ever be able to get to search for Amerorchis rotundifolia in the areas of South Indian, Misty, or Tadoule Lakes.
Additional Comments and Thoughts:
In the above comments, this editor skipped over the book's first several pages; the ones from 11 to 36 that treat conservation and biodiversity, protection of species and ecosystems, orchid biology, and orchid habitat. These pages should be studied, not just read casually! They're well written and although they're slanted toward Manitoba, the underlying thinking applies to other areas equally well. In fact, as this worker went through this book, thoughts kept surfacing about the "tomorrows" for the Native Orchid Conservation organization and this book. Now that the book's been written and published, what might result? What ought to be developed?
One basic problem in biology (and it applies to the orchid family wondrously well!) is to be able to see small enough and still think big enough! Might it not be time for the Native Orchid Conservation group to "think bigger?" One underlying fact is that nobody really owns property in Manitoba! Each generation holds it in trust for the generations that follow, and how well (or poorly) that trust is perceived strongly affects what succeeding generations get! Now let's be realistic! Humans are going to use the earth and its resources. The question becomes one of at what points human use becomes abuse, and this question gets answered by each generation in its own ways. How then, might the Native Orchid Conservation group help slant the next generation's answers? Unless the youth of Manitoba gets a grasp on realistic (not fanatical!) conservation measures, the Native Orchid Conservation group will eventually be relegated to being a group of senior citizens out poking around looking for wildflowers in a forest, bog, or fen. So what does this editor-reviewer suggest? In a few words: think bigger!
Would there not be Canadian youths, individuals from the "South 48," and other countries interested in earning summer course credit in—say—two three credit hour courses at a Winnipeg university? For one course, this little book could suffice as a good start as a text for an introductory course in the orchids of Manitoba! However, TWO courses were suggested. How about another on the geology and ecology of Manitoba? Yes, the courses could be offered at the undergraduate or graduate levels, or even just as seminars, but while seminars are nice, offering college credit opens the door to a host of students (particularly biology undergrads!) who might turn an otherwise dull summer into something enjoyable and educationally productive if it didn't cost them an arm and a leg to do it. Yes, elements from this book could be incorporated into a basic botany curriculum, but that wouldn't really cover the subject well, and it would weaken, not strengthen, the impact that would come from addressing this subject via a stand-on-its-own college course.
Why a college course focusing on the orchids of Manitoba? Well, there are advantages for (1) the youth of Manitoba; (2) the orchids of Manitoba; and (3) the Native Orchid Conservation group. The door's also opened for increased Canadian and South 48 interest in Manitoba beyond catch-as-catch-can tourism, with attendant economic benefits to the Province. There's a load of information between pages 11 and 36 in this book, and were this little book to be the start of a specialized local flora text, this information would reach a much wider audience. In addition, the fact that nobody's offering a similar course anywhere else would make it an attention-getter on its own!
One of the prime keys to intelligent conservation is education! In the not-so-humble opinion of this orchid scholar, it would be to the advantage of the native orchids, the Native Orchid Conservation group, Manitoba youth, Manitoba industries, and the Province to pursue this thread. The summer course opportunity to study both the ecology (heavy with the geology too!) and the orchids of Manitoba could have far-reaching effects.
The book's flower descriptions and photographs are excellent, but the book's dynamite is in its first several pages! Its knowledge deserves to be fitted with a short fuse and touched off for not only the benefit of Canadians and foreigners! The only question is whether the Native Orchid Conservation group can lead the other factions into thinking bigger, and better, for everybody. We need intelligent conservationists, not conservation fanatics, and this little book could be a significant educational springboard toward more sensible approaches to conservation, involving individuals, industry, government working cooperatively for present-day wants and needs while considering the generations to come!
There's been some good work and serious thinking done with this book. Now, by opening and reading it, even greater opportunities appear to be at hand! Not the least of these opportunities would be to begin working on similar volumes for the other Canadian Provinces, but—in this reviewer's opinion—the grand opportunity this book offers is that of opening educational doors for many people to the orchids of Manitoba and the greater field of rational involvement in conservation.
Review by Dr Robert J Ferry, editor of the MIOS Journal.
© 2005 Robert J Ferry. First appeared in McAllen International Orchid Society (MIOS) Journal, Vol 6(8), 2005-August.