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:  Zygopetalum flowers are distinguished by greenish sepals and petals, both heavily marked with purple splotches, a spreading lip usually white with purple radiating stripes, and a pronounced yoke-like bulge on the lip’s base.  Flower:  Large (2-4”) flowers are usually strongly fragrant, with a scent resembling hyacinths.  The genus name is Greek for “yoke” and “petal,” referring to the raised, crescent-shaped bulge (callus), scored with parallel furrows like a plowed field.  In some flowers, this callus better resembles the rear half of a horse saddle.  The column is broad, robust, usually with a blunt yellow tip.  Plant:  Most species have egg-shaped pseudobulbs (2-3” tall), becoming grooved with age, wrapped in brownish fibrous sheaths.  Long (to 18”) leaves emerge from the pseudobulb tip, and are deciduous in dry months.  Leaves are narrow at the base, but broaden (to 2”) farther up and exhibit prominent veins.  Inflorescences arise from the pseudobulb base bearing up to eight flowers.  Similar:  See Batemannia, Galeottia, Promenaea.

Zygopetalum intermedium

Distribution & Diversity:  Some 15 species flourish terrestrially, occasionally as epiphytes, in lower and middle-altitude wet forests.  They occur from Venezuela to Peru and Brazil, where they reach their peak abundance.

Ecology & History:  Zygopetalum plants, sometimes called Ladybird Orchids, probably are visited by male euglossine bees seeking fragrances produced on the lip.  The violet petal markings may help attract pollinators, as yet unidentified, that respond strongly to visual cues.  Z. maculatum and Z. crinitum employ an uncommon strategy for improving reproductive efficiency:  successfully pollinated flowers close slightly, indicating they are no longer receptive.  These flowers, however, remain healthy and colorful for up to three months, whereas unpollinated flowers wilt and fall off after only one month.  This tactic reduces the chance that a bee visits a pollinated flower, while simultaneously maintaining the magnetism of the overall floral display so that bees are attracted to unpollinated flowers.  Unvisited flowers still may reproduce via apomixis, an asexual approach that yields seeds without fertilization, and offspring that are veritable clones of the parent.  Evolution of these unique strategies may allow Zygopetalum to reproduce where suitable pollinators are rare, or absent altogether.


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  • 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


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