EDWARD STANFORD SHORTLIST: The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden

Review published on January 25, 2018.

Whenever orchids are mentioned, most think that they only live in the tropics, where their fantastic colours and shapes have dazzled, captivated and obsessed people over the ages. This level of obsession has caused grown men to almost lose their minds, squander fortunes and even resort to theft to possess the finest specimens. The United Kingdom has its own collection of orchids that are native to the isles; over fifty of them in fact. Leif Bersweden shares this obsession, having been fascinated with plants from an early age, and when an opportunity to take a gap year presents itself, he conceives the idea of travelling around the UK trying to find each and every one of them when they were flowering. Working frantically to save the money for the journey, his parents give their approval for his journey around the UK, his only concern is whether his slightly clapped out van is up to making the trip too?

The season for spotting these plants is from May to September and they are spread all around the country. Some of these plants are rare too, with only one or two endangered plants in secret locations. He will walk through bogs, walk through swathes of wildflowers as he seeks orchids on chalk downlands, getting slightly lost whilst pushing his way through trees and slide down sand dunes in search of these small but still beautiful plants.

This is a really good combined travelogue and natural history book, with a really nice set of colour photos of all the orchids that he found too, for anybody that wants to discover any of these spectacular plants for themselves. For someone so young, Bersweden has an impressive and clear style already and writes about his passion with infectious enthusiasm. There are brief reflections through his personal life, his anxieties and hopes as he formulates the direction that he wants to take with his life after his orchid challenge. It is too a stark reminder of just how perilous the existence of these plants actually is; half of them are on the UK endangered list and the spectres of climate change and intensive farming are having irreversible effects on the habitat. Definitely one for the plant lovers out there and also one for those who have a wider interest in our native ecology.

Paul Cheney 4/-

The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden
Short Books Ltd 9781780723341 hbk Oct 2017

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EDWARD STANFORD SHORTLIST: Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

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