Natural History Publications, November 2011. 697 pages, hardcover, dustwrapper, 520 colour photos and black and white line drawings, 3 colour maps, 3 tables
Barretto, Gloria, Phillip Cribb, and Stephan Gale.
The cultivation and medicinal use of orchids are Chinese traditions that date back millennia, but scientific documentation of southeast China’s native orchids commenced with the establishment of European trade bases at Macau in the 16th Century and at Guangzhou in the 18th Century. Joao de Loureiro, a Portuguese missionary, collected Pecteilis susannae and Spiranthes sinensis during his visit to these enclaves from 1779-1782 and John Damper Parks, a collector for the Horticultural Society of London, sent back specimens of Coelogyne fimbriata and Robiquetia succisa from the region in the 1820s. The earliest survey of orchids on Hong Kong Island is attributed to Dr. Clarke Abel, naturalist aboard HMS Alceste during Lord Amherst’s ill-fated diplomatic mission to the court of the Qing Dynasty in 1816, when he botanised the lower slopes of what was to become known as Mt. Victoria. The island was formally ceded to the United Kingdom following the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, and the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories were added to the colony in 1860 and 1898 respectively.
A century of exploration ensued: over 40 new orchids were named from plants collected within the territory, and even in the short period that has elapsed since its return to Chinese rule, Hong Kong’s narrow valleys and precipitous summits have continued to yield novelties. Collabium chinense and Vanilla shenzhenica were added to the list of native orchids as recently as 1998. In total, 126 species and varieties representing all five orchid subfamilies have been recorded from Hong Kong, a staggering figure given its diminutive size. Hong Kong’s landscape has changed dramatically throughout its history, and emphasis is increasingly placed on developing an understanding of the plants’ ecology in order to ensure their persistence for future generations. The Wild Orchids of Hong Kong provides descriptions and discusses the discovery of all the native species, and the conservation status of each is assessed. Every species is illustrated with a line drawing, and almost all are depicted in photographs taken in Hong Kong.
The Wild Orchids of Hong Kong brings to fruition the work of lifelong Hong Kong resident and countrywoman Gloria Barretto (1916-2007). Gloria acquired her knowledge of botany and orchid taxonomy under the informal tuition of Professor Shiu-ying Hu, and worked at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden from 1971 until 2003. Every evening after work, she crouched over her microscope, utilising makeshift dissecting equipment, working with her collection of books, reams of data, photographs and notes, and, guided by her international network of experts, produced draft descriptions for the orchids of Hong Kong. It was always her intention that this would lead to The Wild Orchids of Hong Kong of a comprehensive account of all the native orchids, a task left to her co-authors and an aspiration now realized posthumously.