Apparently orchid hunting was once (and maybe still is??) a perilous occupation. According to the NY Times:

The organizers might have included the “knives, cutlasses, revolvers, pistols” that Albert Millican, the author of “Travels and Adventures of an Orchid Hunter” (1893), packed for his trips in Colombia, along with “an overflowing supply of tobacco and newspapers.”

The weapons were not just for show. William Arnold, one of Sander’s men, drew his revolver on a rival hunter he ran into aboard a ship sailing to Venezuela. When he complained about the interloper in a letter to Sander, his boss offered a suggestion: Follow the foe, collect what he collected, then urinate on his orchids.

Rivalry was fierce, methods often unscrupulous. Orchid hunters, having found a rare species, gathered every flower they could find, cutting down trees by the thousands, devastating habitat and, in some cases, setting fire to the forest to destroy any samples left behind.

At the same time, the derring-do could be impressive. Benedikt Roezl, one of the more colorful figures described in the exhibition, blazed a solitary trail and refused to carry a firearm, even after being robbed at gun- or knife-point 17 times. He had a hook for a left hand, deeply impressive to the indigenes, and iron resolve. He scaled the Colima volcano in Mexico as it was erupting, reaching the peak as lava flowed around him. The expedition was a success, with 100,000 plants collected.

Many hunters ran out of luck. “Among my collectors who have died in harness I remember Falkenberg in Panama, Klaboch in Mexico, Endres on the Rio Hacha, Wallace in Ecuador, Schroder in Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, poor Arnold on the Orinoco, Digance in Brazil and Brown in Madagascar,” Sander told The New York Herald-Tribune in 1906. “All these have met more or less tragic deaths through wild beasts, savages, fever, drowning, falls or other accidents.”

Not surprisingly, the exploits of the orchid hunters found their way into adventure novels like “The Orchid Seekers: A Story of Adventure in Borneo” or H. Rider Haggard’s “Allan and the Holy Flower,” a ripping yarn about orchid hunting in Zululand.

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