story: Kathy Porter
In January, the Bookworm Book Club was honored to host Craig Pittman, award-winning journalist and author of The Scent of Scandal.
Smuggled out of Peru in 2002, a never-before-seen orchid is brought to the Orchid Identification Center at the prestigious Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota. Selby Gardens enters the race to be the first to classify and name the orchid and to publish its findings.
Thus begins a saga that involves 44 extraordinary characters that include smugglers, adventurers, scientists, and federal investigators. Those enthralled by this beautiful orchid would soon become embroiled in a scandal of international proportions, be subjected to search warrants, and have criminal charges filed against them.
The rainforests in Peru were quickly stripped of the Phragmipedium kovachii, whose purple flower was as big as a man’s hand. Avid orchid collectors lusted after the gorgeous plant, which could not be legally imported. It became a hot commodity on the black market with prices fetching as much as $10,000.
With a great sense of humor, Pittman led 76 book club members through his journey to research and write this book. Pittman had covered the story for the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and thought this would make a wonderful book, especially since he had all the facts, or so he thought.
The more he delved into the story and interviewed the principals, the more he realized this was only the tip of the tale. Thus began months of research. He interviewed nearly all the characters involved, many of whom were more than willing to talk to him. Law enforcement officials, however, were the exception. They were less than forthcoming and even delayed giving Pittman the files he requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Pittman also shed light on the international treaties that govern trade in endangered species, and he delighted us with tales of his escapades as he shadowed custom officials at the Miami International Airport.
Just as interesting was Pittman’s update about the characters and what they are doing now. The scandal tarnished the reputation of Selby Gardens and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which nearly bankrupted the facility.
Members remarked that the book read more like a mystery thriller. In fact, it is probably the only book classified as True Crime/Gardening. The story confirmed that some people will go to extreme lengths to discover a rare flower and achieve the fame and money that goes with it.
About the Author
Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. Born in Pensacola, he graduated from Troy State University in Alabama. Since 1998, he has covered environmental issues for Florida’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. He has been the four-time recipient of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida, and he has twice won the top investigative reporting award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World’s Most Beautiful Orchid is his third book, and it won the silver medal for non-fiction from the Florida Book Awards. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two children.
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