Orchids of Manitoba: A Field Guide

Doris Ames, Peggy Bainard Acheson, Lorne Heshka, Bob Joyce, John Neufeld, Richard Reeves, Eugene Reimer & Ian Ward. 
Native Orchid Conservation Inc., 2005. 
Printed in Canada.  ISBN 0-9734864-0-6
Trade Paperback, 158 pages.  $17.95

Reviewed by Robert Parsons

A new book is on the market, covering Manitoba's native orchid species.  Some are showy and photogenic.  These include the well-known lady's-slippers.  Many others are inconspicuous and easily overlooked by the casual observer.  All are lavishly illustrated and described in this attractive and sturdily bound volume. 

The book has 16 sections.  The first ten, "Acknowledgements", "Forward", "Introduction", "A Brief History of Orchids", "Conservation and Biodiversity", "Protection of Species and Ecosystems", "Orchid Biology", "Orchid Habitat", "Key to Orchids in Manitoba" and "Introduction to the Species Accounts" are brief accounts, ranging from one to ten pages.  Photographs and paintings enhance many of these, and all are written in a lively fashion.  The authors are to be commended for their presentation of this information. 

The "Genus and Species Accounts" make up the bulk of the book.  The plants are arranged alphabetically by genus, and within each genus by their Latin names.  Thus, a summary of the genus Amerorchis opens the section, and it ends with Spiranthes romanzoffiana.  A wealth of photographs makes this section a visual delight. 

The typical genus summary text is up to about a half page in length on the right-side page, with one or more photographs below and at least one photograph on the facing left-side page.  These are almost always of plants at the peak of blossoming.  With multi-species genera, there are usually several species displayed.  Each genus summary is followed by accounts of the representative species members of the genus. 

The species accounts are arranged similarly to the genus summaries, although the text is longer, usually accounting for at least 2/3 of the page.  At the bottom of each, there is one photo, and a range map of the particular species in Manitoba.  One to four, usually two or three, photos are on the facing page.  In general, the facing page photos are close-ups of the flowers at the peak of bloom.  The one photo on the text page more often shows the entire plant, buds or, in a few cases, seed capsules.  There are a few additional photos; for example page 88 shows "Some colour variations in the genus Cypripedium" (the lady's-slippers) and its facing page shows some hybrids of Cypripedium candidum and C. parviflorum

Thirty-six species (and two additional varieties) are covered.  The photographs do a great job of displaying identifiable, diagnostic features of each species.  This is important, given the intent of the authors for the book to act as a field guide. 

The last five sections, "Table of Flowering Times", "Bibliography", "Glossary", "Index" and "How You Can Help" all provide additional information for the botanophile. 

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time all Manitoba orchid species have been covered in a single work.  Scoggan's Flora of Manitoba was published in 1957 and the two most recently discovered species, western prairie fringed-orchid and Great Plains ladies'-tresses, were not found until the mid 1980s.  In any event, this is the first time they have been covered in a format aimed at the popular audience. 

I had to look hard to find any shortcomings.  I did find the following, but all are nit-picky details.  These do not, in any way, detract from the attractiveness or functionality of the book.  The table of contents lists "Genus and Species Accounts" as beginning on page 42.  While this is accurate, there is no actual label of it on the page itself.  Many of the range maps have straight lines on the northern edges of the range of many species (white bog-orchid on page 119 is an example).  This doesn't likely reflect reality, but is hardly a shortcoming of the book so much as it is a gap in our knowledge of orchid distribution.  I really think the seed capsule photos are useful and regret there aren't a few more of them. 

None of the above should dissuade you from buying this book.  It would be an ideal gift for the orchidophile on your list, or for your own use.  A friend of mine asked me recently if I'd bought my copy yet, and on my affirmative reply, she asked "Isn't it exquisite?"  The only answer is a resounding yes. 

© 2005 Robert Parsons.  First appeared in For The Love of Orchids Newsletter of the Manitoba Orchid Society, Vol 28 #3, 2005-November;
also appeared in COC News, the Journal of the Canadian Orchid Congress, Vol 18.1, 2006-January;
and in MNS-Bulletin of the Manitoba Naturalists Society, Vol 32 #1, 2006-February.