Book Review: The Scent of Scandal

Reviewed by Pauline Johnston

Scent-of-scandal-coverAs an orchid lover, how crazy are you? Would you risk Federal imprisonment to get your name attached to an orchid? Would you risk the reputation of your well-respected organization to be the first to name it? Obviously, some would.

The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World’s Most Beautiful Orchid, by Craig Pittman of the Saint Petersburg Times, tells just such a tale. Although I have had this book since shortly after its publication last year, I only recently opened it and started reading this intriguing story. Unlike Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (2008), this book reads more like a spy novel and can really hold your attention.  I recommend it to any of you who do not know this story, particularly those less knowledgeable about international trade in orchids and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).

Peppered with orchid smugglers, orchid academicians, and avid growers and hobbyists, it tells the tale of Phragmipedium  kovachii, found in Peru and brought to the Selby Gardens in Tampa for identification and naming in 2002. With a flower bigger than a human hand, it quickly became the “most sought-after orchid in the world.” Everyone involved with this illegal process has a different story to tell and the stories keep changing. Views differ on whether CITES really helps or hinders the conservation of rare orchids. At the end of this tale, it is up to you to decide if the players were more interested in making names for themselves, in the conservation of this species, or in making lots of cash.

It is a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about smuggling orchids.

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