Living with Wild Orchids in Sumatra

Unique New Book on Orchid Collecting

This book is Living with Wild Orchids in Sumatra, that is, living among them and collecting them. It is not of the genre available at bookstores; it is not like "The Orchids of . . ." or "How to Grow . . . ." It is a true story of two men learning about orchids from observing and collecting -- strictly as a pastime, not commercially. We started collecting with a few plants from felled trees at oil well sites. We read a comprehensive treatise on the region's orchids and other material, and continued collecting. Plants were brought back, identified, flowered, and careful records kept. In 60 trips over the next 19 months, we saw thousands of plants, and collected over 500 from five different provinces. We learned a great deal about orchids in nature, much that the world of hybridizing and hot-house growing never touches upon.

We hope the book imparts much of this information -- a chance to get back to the roots of it all -- the tropics. How common are orchids in those equatorial regions, what does it take to see them, what are their habitats, associations, their flowering schedules? People, beautiful scenery, and aspects of oil camp life are included with what we hope is considerable humor. This was not picking here and there, but was a concerted year and a half effort by two scientifically-trained, environmentally-oriented men in an orchid-rich area. Collecting in Malaysia, Bali, even Colombia, played a part. A lot was learned, and we hope that this picture-rich account, related in time order, a story with a beginning and an end, conveys much of it.

Pigeon Dendrobiums

Photo 1: Curtains of the Pigeon Dendrobium (click photo for more pictures)

Central Sumatra is the home of Coelogyne and Cymbidium in the highlands; Dendrobium, Bulbophyllum, and Eria in the lowlands; and several of the smaller genera. More than seventy orchids are discussed individually, and by the end of the book, many will probably become friends to the reader as they were to us. The author and his cohort followed the lives of their five hundred plants in six sheds and on the trees and screens of their camp homes. But for every one we picked, we left thirty untouched. Many of the plants we collected were dying on felled trees or just small parts of enormous plants. We encountered most species tens of times.

But this is not a detailed account of the flora. It is about collecting: from motorcycles on slick oil roads, from Land Rovers on highways and dirt roads; climbing around piles of felled trees at well sites, climbing trees in the highlands, or picking plants from rock walls. This project was conducted from the view of an experienced field geologist who had technical background from a previous large scale project collecting and recording fossils in Colombia.

This is a non-fiction account of events as they happened, with flashbacks to the author's related experiences in hunting, field geology, and riding. This region is one of the world's great oil provinces, and the book touches on that subject. There is also a travelogue aspect, especially concerning one of the most beautiful terrains, the green and gold patchwork of terraced mountain rice paddies, our background to collecting in the highlands.

But text and pictures always return to orchids.

Lots of things that you don't get into at society meetings.

Grammatophyllum speciosum

Photo 2: The giant Gram. speciosum flowering for the first time in four years (click photo for larger picture)

The book's chapters are

The 153 pages of text are supplemented with 37 pages of color photographs, including 225 color pictures, selected from the 1,400 pictures taken. Most of the pictures are of orchids on trees and flowering in sheds, but also include people, camp, and scenery.

The large number of pictures illustrating this experience is crucial but expensive to publish. The book may someday be available at a lesser price, but not in such a color-rich, unabridged version. This book can be purchased for $48 (US), plus airmail shipping ($6 in the United States, $15 outside the US). Payment should be by check, or international money order in $USD, please, to

David Landau
7719 Streamside
Houston, TX 77088
Questions: 1-281-820-2943

Pages from the book

Photo 3: Click photo for examples of full-page text and pictures.

This is a sit-back-and-enjoy book, a true account. Few if any orchidists at any level will be disappointed in it. The theme of this work is nearly unique in orchid literature. The author has written the book factually, so that the reader will become familiar with the various habits of equatorial orchids, what it took to collect them, their background scenery, the collectors, and Indonesia. Although not high adventure, it describes an orchid experience in which only a lucky few have ever participated.

Let our privilege be your own.

Copyright (C) 1996, 1997, David Landau. All rights reserved.