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Vol. 6(4), pp. 10-11The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalApril 2005

Book Report -- The Orchids of Minnesota

Wilma J Ferry

Smith, W. R. 1993. Orchids of Minnesota. Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Univerity of Minnesota Press. 172pp. ISBN 0-8166-2309-0. Available through Amazon.com for $24.95 plus shipping.

Fig. 10. Book Cover, Orchids of Minnesota

Minnesota covers 84,068 square miles, is dotted with lakes, is the place-of-origin of the Mississippi River, and has rivers that flow into Hudson Bay in Canada. For generations its riches came from its evergreen forests, the black soil of its rolling prairies and the vast iron deposits of the Mesabi Range where the world's biggest man-made hole was created by open-pit mining operations. Population wise, Minneapolis is fondly referred to as the city having more Scandinavians than any other city except Stockholm. It's one of the northernmost states of the Continental United States. Its southern border is at roughly 43° 30' North (close to the latitude of Florence, Italy), and one portion of Minnesota juts to about 48° 30' North (a little farther north than Prague, Czechoslovakia). Being one of the inland states of the U.S., spring is late in coming, the fall-winter season comes early, and much of Minnesota can be very cold during the winter season!

Yet, despite its northern climate, Minnesota holds sixteen genera which house forty two native orchids. The state has a geologic history of having been covered by glaciers until about 12,000 years ago, and it's believed the orchids now found there originated elsewhere and emigrated after the glaciers retreated. The state is divided into four major ecological regions, with each defined according to the predominant vegetation at the time of European settlement. They are the coniferous forest region, the prairie region, the deciduous forest region and the Aspen Parkland. Although these regions have been markedly affected by the influence of the emigrants, the author surmises orchids probably occur in every county in Minnesota.

Fig. 11. Typical maps offered in the body of the text. [From p. 95, narrative of Liparis lilifolia (L.) Rich.]

In the introduction, Welby Smith, the botanist of the natural Heritage Program of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, summarizes what makes an orchid an orchid with detailed accounts and line drawings of two generalized orchid types and their floral structures. Remarks are included regarding orchid pollination, symbiosis, natural history, ecology, conservation and a guide on how to use the book. In the portion devoted to each species another plus for this book are the inset maps. One map is of the Continental United States and shows the generalized range of the species, while the other is of Minnesota with dots in each county where the species has been reported prior to 1950 and between 1950 and 1952 (Fig. 11). The maps are included at the upper right corner of each page's narrative of a species, and while they do not pinpoint specific sites, very good general area information is provided.

Fig. 12. Typical figure by artist Vera Ming Wong. [From p. 94, illustration of Liparis lilifolia (L.) Rich.]

This volume not only includes high quality glossy color photographs of Minnesota orchids taken in situ, but the narrative portion concerning each species is also accompanied by excellent ink drawings by the natural science illustrator and artist Vera Ming Wong (Fig. 12). Her artwork is reminiscent of the work of Blanche Ames Ames, Gordon W. Dillon, and other orchid art masters. Her work is a significant asset to a well-organized text and the book's figure-illustrated keys!

In addition to the text, the orchid hunter-photographer will appreciate the three-page table of known flowering data which covers the months each species is known to flower. Thus, for one who may be visiting or vacationing in the state for only a short time, but would like to search for and photograph a few of the state's orchids, this guide could prove quite useful.

In conclusion, this book provides entertaining reading as well as useful botanical and ecological information concerning the orchids of Minnesota. As a model for a potential orchid book, or the revising and improving of one, it has several attributes authors would do well to include in their book planning.

Copyright © 2005 Wilma J Ferry