Barwon Booksellers - Secondhand and Collectibles


  • The Orchid Field

    9 May 2014 -

    It is a curious thing about Orchids. Ever since ornithologist William Swainson’s legendary crate of plants turned up in London from Rio de Janeiro in 1818, people have become decidedly obsessive about the things. The myth about Swainson’s crate was that the orchid fever it triggered was in fact inadvertent. Apparently Swainson only used the orchids as packing material in the Rio crate, in order to protect the other exotic specimens he’d deemed interesting enough to warrant the long trip to England. As soon as the lid was prised however, the gasps were audible, the members of his botanical coterie becoming instantly smitten with the exotic and delicate floral effusion surrounding the larger plants. Rightly or wrongly Swainson has consequently been presented ever since as the rather illegitimate godfather of orchid hunters. 

So what is it about orchids: their vividness and fragility, the diversity of their types (somewhere around 30000 different species), their erotic connotations, the intrepid journeys people have made to collect them, or the self-sufficiency of the plants themselves? Well, no doubt the allure of orchids is potent for all those reasons. This edition of the BB newsletter is devoted entirely to the orchid field.


    The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Illustrated Dictionary of Orchid Genera – Peggy Alrich & Wesley Higgins (Comstock Cornell University Press in association with Selby Botanical Gardens Press 2008 482 pages) - $40


    The hundreds of orchid genera and thousands of species can seem unbelievably complex. The Illustrated Dictionary of Orchid Genera is a convenient reference, providing secure mooring for any species of orchid.


    “It's not really about collecting the thing itself," Laroche went on. "It's about getting immersed in something, and learning about it, and having it become part of your life. It's a kind of direction." He stopped on the word "direction" and chortled. "If anybody had a plant I didn't have, I made sure to get it. It was like a heroin addiction. If I ever had money I would spend it on plants.” Susan Orlean


     Wild Orchids of Victoria Australia – Jeffrey Jeames & Gary Backhouse (Aquatic Photographics 2006 315 pages) - $45

    Victoria is one of the richest areas in the world for terrestrial orchids and this guide presents all of Victoria’s wild orchids in over 1400 detailed photographs. A descriptive text is provided with the photographs, enabling the user to confidently identify orchids in the field.


    'Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
 fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are 
disposed on the sidewalks.'

    Amy Clampitt


     Orchids of Australia – John J Riley & David P Banks (UNSW Press 2002 308 pages) - $50

    This beautiful book showcases Australia’s unique orchid flora and the rare talent of illustrator John J Riley. Each species description consists of a page of text with a colour illustration opposite.


    'Children on their way to school
 discover tadpoles in a pool, ice plants sheathed in beaded glass, 
spider orchids and shivery grass.'

    Flexmore Hudson


     The Orchids Of South Central Africa – Graham Williamson (Dent & Sons 1977 237 pages) - $45

    The plateau of Southern Central Africa is a rich area for orchids. The book covers 50 genera of indigenous Central African orchids and includes detailed drawings to show the differing characteristics.



     Orchids Of The Anglesea District: A Field Guide – Everett Foster & Margaret MacDonald (Foster & MacDonald 1999 110 pages) - $12

    Triggered in part by concern about the reduction of orchid habitat, this is an excellent full colour local pocket guide supported by the Australian Orchid Foundation. 


    "When two friends understand each other totally, the words are soft and strong like an orchid's perfume."

    Martin Luther King Jr

     Orchids of South-West Australia:  Revised Second Edition with Supplement – Noel Hoffman & Andrew Brown (University of Western Australia Press 1998 462 pages) - $25

    An accurate yet easy key to identifying the native orchids of south-west Western Australia.



    “Many collectors died in process of searching for new species, and despite persistent reports that the men died from drowning, gunshot and knife wounds, snakebite, trampling by cattle, or blows in the head with blunt instruments, it is generally accepted that in each case the primary cause of death was orchid fever.”  Eric Hansen


     A Complete Guide To Native Orchids Of Australia Including The Island Territories – David L Jones (Reed New Holland 2006 496 pages) – $60

    The idea for this book arose from a desire to present in a simple but comprehensive form the reults of many years of research into Australian orchids by teams on both sides of the continent. It should be of value to casual visitors to the bush as well as dedicated orchid enthusiasts, conservation workers, environmental consultants and professional botanists.


     Orchids of Australia The Complete Edition – WH Nicholls (Thomas Nelson 1969) - $75

    A classic reference for Australian orchids, Nicholls Complete Edition comprises 476 colour plates and 129 pages of supplementary informationon each plant.


     Exotic Orchids In Australia – David L Jones (Reed 1990) - $15

    Focussing on 250 of the more flamboyant flowers in the Australian orchid pantheon, this is like a greatest hits volume with all the requisite highlights. A comprehensive cross-referenced index offers simple reference to all species.


    'It is this darkness reveals that which darkness alone 
loosens and sets spinning on waxen wings, 
not the touch of a finger-tip, not the motion 
of a sigh. A too heavy sweetness proves 
its own caretaker.
 And here are the orchids. 
Never having seen such gaiety I will read these flowers for you.'

     William Carlos Williams




    Dendrobium Kingianum: A Unique Australian Orchid - Peter B Adams & Sheryl D Lawson (Central Queensland University Press 1995 197 pages) - $25

    Otherwise known as the Australian Pink Rock Orchid, Dendrobium kingianum is an orchid species which for a variety of reasons, captures the imaginations of orchid collectors and growers. It occurs naturally in arelatively small area on the eastern coast of Australia yet is one of Australia's best known, most popular, and most variable orchids.

     Australian Orchids - Rosa Fiveash & Noel Lothian (Rigby 1982 149 pages) - $25

    The 99 plates in this book illustrate 23 orchid genera and atotal of 139 species. Rosa Fiveash, one of Australia's foremost botanical illustrators, creates paintings with a triple appeal: to botanists fortheir scientific detail, to art lovers for their delicacy of colour and form, and to lovers of wildflowers for their exquisite depiction of these beautiful plants.


     We also have a lovely Miegunyah press hardback copy of Backhouse & Jeanes 'The Orchids of Victoria', but without its dustwrapper, at $125. 


    Orchids of course are just one of the many fetishes we cater for here at BB. Trains, Boats, Plains, Atheism, Biggles, Foster Fyans, Father Brown, Patsy Adam Smith, Modern First Editions, Felting and Australian Art are just a few of the many others. See you instore.