Monthly Archives: December 1998

Guatemala and Its Orchids

Guatemala and Its Orchids. Moisés Behar and Otto Tinschert.
Guatemala: Bancafé, 1998. 240 pages.
ISBN: 84-89766-39-8.

Bancafé/Grupo Financiero del País celebrates its 20th anniversary in a rather unique way with the special publication of Guatemala and Its Orchids by Moisés Behar and Otto Tinschert. This exclusive bilingual edition (2,000 numbered copies) is truly a work of art, as lovely and beautiful as the subject itself. An interactive CD-ROM compliments the book and enhances the presentation.

Behar and Tinschert are well-known orchid enthusiasts who have been active participants in orchid societies both in Guatemala and abroad for many years. orchids2.jpgThey are also extremely good amateur photographers. The two authors are generous with sharing their all-consuming passion for Guatemala’s wild orchids, and the result of their combined study and research is most impressive: 100 genera, 261 species, seven varieties, and nine natural hybrids. They document this substantial list with a clear and precise text (not at all technical or burdensome), plus 362 pictures of orchids in their habitat. According to these two orchidologists, there is as yet no systematic study of species in Guatemala. Their current work simply records and illustrates approximately 35% of the reported orchid species, and it is based mainly on their own excursions to various geographical regions throughout the land.

Orchids are plentiful in Guatemala, and they are found practically everywhere in the country. For Behar and Tinschert, the flowers are symbols of Guatemala’s rich natural resources. There are 700 cataloged species and 140 genera in the country. The majority of these orchids are epiphytes, and they abound particularly in the Verapaces, home to many species of the genus Lycaste, including the national flower — la monja blanca.

The authors express their genuine concern for ecological damage in Guatemala and its effect on wild orchids. They attribute the extinction of numerous species directly to deforestation, erosion, and fires. These factors cannot be ignored for the future existence and distribution of orchids throughout the seven geographical areas — from the Pacific littoral and decline, the highlands, the mountainous, humid and dry regions, and the Atlantic lowlands. Growth of species is determined by similar conditions such as temperature, humidity, and sunlight within each of these zones. Changes in climatic factors alter the ecological systems and endanger the habitat for orchids. For instance, tracts of heavy deforestation in the highlands also have been very rich in orchids, and conservation efforts are critical there for the survival of many genera.

Guatemala and Its Orchids is an indispensable reference source and a first-rate photography book. It may not be the definitive field guide, but for orchid enthusiasts worldwide, the high price tag is certainly no obstacle. In Guatemala, the publication is bound for some of the best coffee tables in the country as an object of high home decor. The book needs extensive national distribution and publicity. The Rossioglossums, Brassias, Oncidiums, and Maxillarias on its pages, like the White Nun, must become familiar enough household names and images. When viewed in the context of Guatemala’s history, geography, and culture, these beautiful wild orchids are inseparable from its patrimony.