Review in Optima Newsletter

 15. Wolf KRETZSCHMAR, Gisela KRETZSCHMAR & Wolfgang ECCARIUS - Orchideen auf Rhodos. Ein Feldführer durch die Or-chideenflora der "Insel des Lichts". - Privately published, Bad Hersfeld, 2001 (ISBN 3-00-007322-1). 240 pages, maps and photographs in colour, tables; hard cover.

16. Wolf KRETZSCHMAR, Gisela KRETZSCHMAR & Wolfgang ECCARIUS - Orchideen auf Kreta, Kasos und Karpathos. Ein Feldführer durch die Orchideenflora der zentralen Inseln der Südägäis. - Privately published, Bad Hersfeld, 2002 (ISBN 3-00-008878-4). 416 pages, maps and photographs in colour, tables; hard cover.

Those who, opening these twin volumes expect to find two more of the well produced, gloriously illustrated orchid picture books whose number, to the plant lover’s delight, is steadily increasing will not be disappointed. The fascinating world of south Aegean orchids unfolds before the reader‘s eye in its unequalled variety and amazing beauty. There can hardly be a more suitable companion for the keen amateur visiting those islands in spring time than these books, which fulfil other desiderata as well, such as advice on excursions commendable for orchid hunters (with species lists) and identification keys with colour portraits of single flowers typical for each taxon. Short introductions on the geology, landscapes and vegetation of each island, with pictures of a selection of charactenistic representatives of the fauna and non-orchidaceous flora, are an additional bonus. [One might note that Campanula saxatilis, allegedly shown in the book on Rhodes, does not occur on that island; the photograph is likely to be of a decumbent, mat-forming individual of the polymorphic C. hagielia.]
So much for the flower book aspect. But there is much more to Kretzschmar & al.‘s orchid guides than pleasantness and aesthetics. To me as a botanist, they come as a real good surprise. To understand my delight, you have to know that as a young man I took a lively interest in the orchids of Crete, primarily Ophrys, as full of mysteries then as they are now; and that after a thorough study of them in the wild I thought I had almost grasped them. But then, more recently, with the steady flood of new descriptions of - for me - unrecognisable new species, I gave up in despair. Ophrys classification appeared to have nothing left in common with "normal" botanical systematics, no link with populations as a biological reality, of reproductive biology, not even a glimpse of evolutionary reasoning. Consideration of the plants’ "mating system" was reduced to watching the sexual behaviour of greedy male insect visitors.
Thanks to these books hope has returned. They are plainly intelligent, the best in their kind for ages - probably since Nelson’s entirely different works referred to previously. The authors have their own, precise criteria of classification, they take the trouble to explain them, and then they proceed and implement them as coherently as possible. You may or may not concur, but at least the outcome reflects a coherent vision - which is an immense progress. The result is still on the splitters’ side, but tolerably so. The named units are real populations, and they are morphologically defined at least within the particular area considered. The reader is led to recognise each taxon and understand the criteria used to establish it, both thorough the descniptive text and a generous selection of pictures that demonstrate the observed variation.
The authors avoid minimising the difficulties. Morphotypes that in one area form discrete, recognisable populations, thus meeting the criteria for distinction at species level, intergrade elsewhere. Ophrys omegaifera and O. basilissa, distinct in Crete but not on Rhodes, are an exam-ple - the conclusion being that they are treated as subspecies of a single species in the second book (where, contrary to the first one, several rank transfers are validly proposed). Another problem case is the status of O. episcopalis with respect to O. holoserica - but as the later is considered to be absent from the area, that question has been skipped and no solution is attempted.
In their endeavour to understand the observed. often chaotic patterns of variation. the authors mention an important point that I have long felt is obvious yet is seldom if ever spelled out: the fact that in non-autogamous orchids successful pollination is a rare event but when it happens has dramatic consequences, as tens of thousands of seeds with identical parentage are then produced. This explains the local clusters of individuals sharing peculiar morphological traits that one so often observes.
These, then, are not mere picture books but real scientific works. The authors have been led to recognise several new taxa (validated in parallel elsewhere) that are well documented and appear to be solidly founded, and to reassess the classification of many others. There is an impressive, carefully edited bibliography at the end, and at the beginning the most recent reappraisal of generic classification based on molecular data is explained: the merger of Aceras with Orchis and split of the latter genus into three: Orchis s. str., Neotinea and Anacamptis. However, the authors wisely refrain from implementing that new concept in the treatment proper.
The illustrations are a prominent and vitally important feature of the wonk. The accurate way in which they are documented deserves equal praise as their beauty, technical perfection and informative quality: in each case, the locality, date and (in the few cases in which pictures by others ane used) name of the photographer are carefully cited. Most of the illustrations represent plants from within the area, but in a few cases, when none were available, Turkish or Central European plants are shown - e.g. for Epipogium aphyllum, reported with circumspect doubt as a new addition to the Cretan flora. W.G.