Craig Pittman, author
(University Press of Florida, Gainesville)
Review by KATHY MEGYERI
After reading Craig Pittman’s hilarious 2016 book, Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, I admit that I would drive anywhere in Florida to hear this writer speak. Pittman, a Florida native and Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter, is a delightful, personable, and knowledgeable author who recently spoke at Marie Selby’s Botanical Gardens in Sarasota for the Sarasota Orchid Society’s monthly meeting.
He was there to talk about his 2012 book, The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal,
and the World’s Most Beautiful Orchid, which details the 2002 scandal that occurred at the gardens when scientists were asked to identify an orchid with a questionable origin.
The Selby gardens are known for having one of the most glorious orchid collections in the world on display, but their most famous, the Phragmipedium kovachii, is not on view. It’s the one that led to search warrants, a grand jury investigation, criminal charges, fines, and
ultimately, the ouster of Selby’s director.
Pittman’s The Scent of Scandal reads like a paperback thriller. In it, he tells the story of James Michael Kovach, an unemployed carpenter, who, after noticing the beloved orchids on teen girls’ prom gowns, becomes obsessed with the flower. He travels to Moyobamba,
the premier orchid city in Peru, and buys a stunning orchid for $3.50 from a roadside vendor. He smuggles it back to the U.S. inside a suitcase of dirty underwear, then takes
it to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota to be identified. His hope is that experts
there will confirm his finding, name it after him, and attest to that fact that this is the most significant find in a century.
In his book, author Pittman sorts through the different versions of Kovach’s
story, examines the international laws that govern trade in endangered species, looks at the most basic emotion of human greed, explores the dark underbelly of the orchidphile culture, and unravels the web of smugglers, scientists, and federal investigators in a case
examined by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Written with Pittman’s usual wit, unique observations, attention to detail, and thorough coverage, The Scent of Scandal is sure to appeal to Floridians, plant lovers, and readers of intrigue, mystery and suspense.
After all, how could you not like a book that is dedicated to Pittman’s mother in which he states, “for all the times I accidentally mowed over your flowerbed.”