The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalaya - Book Review

Book Review

by Anu Dharmani

Originally published in BellaOnline

Posted by Sys Admin almost 4 years ago.

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The book The Orchids of the Sikkim-Himalaya (Volume VIII of Annals of the Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta) is written by George King and Robert Pantling. It is a collectible book, written in 1898 when the Indian sub-continent was under British rule. It is an ultimate orchid guide for researchers and hobbyists alike. The book is divided into two sections; first section provides textual information about the orchids found in the tropical areas of Asia. The second section contains about 450 drawing of the orchids mentioned in the first section, with floral details in colour. Though, the copy which I used was borrowed from the departmental library of our Botany Department and it did not have the colour plates.

Pros of the book:
• A near complete book on orchids found growing in tropical regions of the Indian sub-continent as well as in the South East Asian region. Rare, threatened as well as those orchids which are no longer found growing in these areas are also described in detail.
• It provides a detailed taxonomic identification followed by morphological details. Flowering season as well as area of distribution are also mentioned for each orchid.
• Plates are very skillfully drawn and if you can get your hands on the edition with colored plates, then wow! Though I would vouch even for the plain black and white drawings.
• The drawings are drawn to show the actual size, while those orchids which are small or tiny (e.g. Thelasis pygmea) are drawn enlarged to make the structure clearer.

Cons of the book
• It is a large book, difficult to carry on field trips (meant to be carried by dedicated souls or harassed doctorate students only!) and it is expensive. A better option would be to get it from a library as I did.
• The taxonomic details of orchids mentioned in the book needs to be checked, as many of these have been renamed or relocated in the taxonomic table.
• The status of many orchids mentioned in the book has changed over time. As many of the orchids which were easily available at the time when this book was written, are now quite rare.
• The biggest flaw, which I experienced while going through this book, was the separately placed drawings from the detailed explanation. You have to keep flipping back and forth while trying to read and match the orchids with their drawings.

I don't own this book, but I got it issued from the library when ever the need arose. Having said that, my recommendation would be to read this book at least once, you can gain good information on many of the tropical orchids.

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