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:  Phragmipedium plants are known as Slipper Orchids for their flower’s deeply pouched lip.  Flower:  Lateral sepals are fused and held beneath the lip; the dorsal sepal is broad and upright.  Long, narrow petals droop down (to 36”), often twisting.  The lip is clog or slipper shaped (but petal-like in P. lindenii), with the edges rolled inward.  Flowers usually are green with a variety of brownish stripes and spots; a few species are brilliant red, pink or purple.  The short, bristly column is tipped with a triangular shield.  Plant:  Tall, arching leaves (to 36”) are slender, leathery and grooved, growing in loose fans without appreciable stems.  Tall inflorescences arise from leaf bases, bearing several flowers.  Similar:  Selenipedium has bamboo-like stems, pleated leaves.

Phragmipedium kovachii

Distribution & Diversity:  Some 25 species dwell as terrestrials or rarely epiphytes, in low to middle-elevation forests and grasslands.  They occur from Mexico to Brazil and Bolivia.

Ecology & History:  Phragmipedium has evolved archetypal trap flowers that capture bees and flies and provide them only one exit:  past the plant’s sex organs.  Pollinators slip on the inrolled rim, plummeting into the pouch from which the waxy interior walls and cupped shape prevent escape.  A stripe of bristles, however, provides a ladder up the back of the pouch.  The lip’s lateral lobes partly block the exit, forcing captives to clamber through a tiny opening beneath the column.  There, the insect receives pollinia that it carries to another flower.  Visual cues attract pollinators to the flowers:  bee eyes are sensitive to shapes with a lot of edge, like the thin, twisting petals of Phragmipedium.  Scent glands on the petal tips also provide olfactory enticement.  Slipper orchids have uniquely rabid devotees, who traditionally have collected brightly colored Asian species.  Their zeal propelled all slipper orchids onto the international endangered species list.  Discovery of the vivid P. besseae and P. kovachii in tropical America unleashed a firestorm of overharvesting, virtually annihilating many wild populations.  The latter orchid was smuggled illegally into the USA, earning Mr. Kovach and Selby Botanical Garden (which named the species after him) criminal convictions and waves of negative publicity.


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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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