Orchids of Tropical America: An Introduction and Guide


Treats 122 of the most eyecatching and widespread orchid groups, from the Bahamas to Brazil

Easy to use identification system allows rapid recognition of almost any orchid flower

More than 480 stunning photos from world-class orchid growers and photographers

Entertaining accounts of ecology, medicinal uses and history bring each group to life

Invaluable as a field guide for orchid tourists visiting tropical America - over 100 reserves and parks featured


Dr. Joe Meisel is vice president of the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation, and has worked for over 20 years in Latin America conducting research, teaching, and working with local landowners and communities to protect orchid habitat.

Joe Meisel

Dr. Ron Kaufmann is a professor at the University of San Diego, a long-time orchid grower, founding member of the Orchid Conservation Alliance and chair of the San Diego County Orchid Society's Conservation Committee.

Dr. Franco Pupulin is the orchid curator of the Lankester Botanical Garden in Costa Rica, editor-in-chief of Lankesteriana, and frequent contributor to scientific journals on the subject of orchid taxonomy.

Contact Info

Cornell University Press

Book website
2014 Catalog description


Description:  The Bat or Bucket Orchids of Coryanthes are distinguished by backswept sepals and a complex lip resembling a helmet mounted above a bucket.  Flower:  Yellow with reddish-brown spots or cream-colored, the intricate flowers last only 3-4 days, changing rapidly as they mature and wilt.  Lateral sepals initially flare outward, later folding back like a bat’s wings in flight, frozen during the upstroke.  A small dorsal sepal bends down, while tiny petals are nearly undetectable.  The bizarre lip combines a polished helmet-shaped bulge (Coryanthes is Greek for helmet flower), a smooth central region resembling a water slide, and a deep bucket formed by enlarged, inward-curling side lobes.  Paired faucet-shaped glands on the stocky column secrete a clear liquid that drips into the bucket.  Plant:  Clustered pseudobulbs are grooved or fluted, conical to spindle shaped, each producing 2-3 soft, pleated leaves.  A hanging inflorescence emerges from the pseudobulb base.

Coryanthes mastersiana

Distribution & Diversity:  Approximately 50 epiphytic species favor low-elevation forest from Mexico to Brazil.  Coryanthes grows in ant gardens which provide rich soil and herbivore protection, or near wasp nests; they should be approached cautiously.

Ecology & History:  Darwin described how “humble bees” battle for access to the helmet part of the lip, scrabbling at its surface to collect what we now know are fragrance molecules.  The scents are later used to attract females for reproduction.  Male bees routinely slip down the slide, suffering an “involuntary bath” in the bucket.  The only exit is through a tunnel past a firm hump that wedges the bee against the column, where pollinia are glued to his back.  The tunnel and hump are shaped to favor bees of a particular size, reducing the risk of hybridization by smaller or larger bees.  Once pollinated, flowers disintegrate into mush thanks to a self-digesting enzyme.  Brazil nut trees also are pollinated by bees (Eulaema) that collect perfume from Coryanthes vasquezii flowers growing in intact rainforest.  In disturbed habitats, or where Brazil nut trees are grown in plantations, orchid flowers are scarce and males cannot find fragrance to attract females.  Without reproduction, bee populations decline and the unpollinated trees fail to produce these delicious and economically important nuts.


Return to homepage



  • Introduction
  • Foreword by Dr. Phil Cribb
  • Introduction to the guide
  • Orchid Diversity, Ecology & Conservation
  • Introduction to orchid biology and ecology
  • Why are orchids so diverse?
  • Fooling flies, duping lovers & other ecological tales
  • Collectors & bandits, a history of orchids and the people that pursued them
  • Threats and conservation:  what is being done to save orchids?
  • Rapid Identification Guide
  • Illustrated glossary of key orchid characteristics
  • How to identify orchid groups
  • Easy-to-use orchid identification system
  • Field Guide and Genus Descriptions
  • Detailed description each genus, from stem to sepal
  • How to distinguish from similar orchids
  • Distribution & diversity, preferred habitat type and elevation
  • Ecological oddities, human history & other wild tales
  • Superb photographs of the most prominent, widely seen, and historically important species
  • Where to See Orchids
  • Orchid-centered reserves in over 20 Central & South America and Caribbean countries
  • Orchid Resources
  • Links to online sites for orchid identification, care and purchase
  • Extensive bibliography of orchid literature

Sample Genus Accounts


For more information, please contact the author. To order, visit Powell's Books, Amazon, Cornell University Press, or local booksellers (find a bookstore).