Stalking the Wild Orchids of Jamaica
In 1912, when the travel writer, H.M. Tomlinson visited Jamaica, he called it "a jewel that smells like a flower." This description is no surprise to Dennis Valentine, a Jamaican photographer who dearly loves his island's abundant flowers, especially the orchids. He is fascinated by Jamaica's astonishing variety of orchids, the greatest in the Caribbean, and his goal is to photograph every single species.
So far, Dennis Valentine has photographed 150 of the estimated 230 species which is no mean feat because of the island's rugged terrain. From the tourist resorts of Negril to the Blue Mountains, he has traipsed through hot sun and pouring rain to stalk the most elusive of orchids. His goal? Not only to find the species, but to find it in bloom and in good condition. This quest has been his passion for more than a decade, perhaps not so unusual for a young man whose father worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and who grew up next to Kingston's Hope Botanical Garden. His parents were avid rose growers and as a child, Dennis Valentine lived in a world of beloved blooms and blossoms. His particular passion for orchids stems from their mysterious diversity and intricate beauty. Yet as beautiful as orchids are, their story, Dennis believes, is just as beautiful -- even romantic.
"Like the people in Jamaica, the orchids originated in Africa," Dennis explains. "Orchid seeds are fine as dust and are carried long distances by the wind. Sometimes in Jamaica, there's a reddish haze in the sky -- Sahara dust from Africa and it's mixed with an astonishing invisible plant variety. You could say it's a vital dust. "
Over centuries, orchid seeds sprouted throughout Jamaica as in a kind of natural hothouse. Today, each area of the island boasts a different species of orchid. Dennis Valentine has his favorites.
"I'm fascinated by very tiny orchids. A tiny orchid is, in a sense, a very private world. The delicacy of tiny orchids is similar to butterflies. Much of their beauty can only be seen with a magnifying glass."
Sadly, he knows that this rare and fragile beauty is rapidly disappearing.
"We're losing a lot of nature and orchid species are endangered through too much business and tourist development, industry and agriculture in which habitat is destroyed. But we have to preserve our orchids. We need to understand more about the real "birds and the bees" because all plant life on earth is interconnected with butterfly and bird life."
With magnifying glass in pocket, Dennis Valentine continues to stalk the rare Jamaica orchid. Recently he found a mysterious unnamed orchid but he's modest about his discovery. For him, it's the seeing that counts. In fact, his advice for visitors who come to Jamaica is just that: "Slow down and try to see the small things that other people don't."
Dennis Valentine's orchid photos can be viewed at his studio:
Tel. (876) 927-2417
or by contacting the Jamaica Orchid Society at (876) 927-6713
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