Review Blog

Sep 04 2018

The wasp and the orchid by Danielle Clode

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Picador:Pan MacMillan, 2018. ISBN 9781760554286
(Age: Adult) Themes: Environment. Orchids. Women in science. Edith Coleman. Botany. This is an insightful biography of Edith Coleman, a woman who demonstrated the observation skills of a keen scientist and naturalist and was able to make a difference in the scientific world, without being a professional or academic. Her observations revolutionised understanding in the biological world in the early 20th Century, and yet she was not a scientist, just a dedicated observer and recorder and communicator of these findings. In the era when Edith Coleman lived, women were often deemed to be a 'lesser light', and expert only in domestic issues. Edith Coleman demonstrated that with careful records and clear communication that it was possible for women to make a significant contribution to the world of natural science (even as an amateur). Her great claim to fame was to describe the link between a wasp and the fertilisation of a look-alike orchid, in a process known as pseudo-copulation.
Danielle Clode has revealed an impressive and detailed unveiling of all that Edith Coleman was - child, sibling, wife, mother, keen nature observer, contributor to academic understanding, and a refreshing writer. Coleman's humanity shines through the enjoyable discourse of the researcher Clode, who writes her own refreshing insights on the process of finding snippets of biographical detail in a myriad of hidden locations - from herbarium records to Field Naturalist journals and personal communications. This record is both an in-depth investigation and a lyrical and reflective personal journey that is full of beautiful language and images of gardens and natural wonderlands sprinkled with orchids. In reading this book we remember Edith Coleman, an unsung luminary in Australian biology, and although this may not appeal to all readers, it will be loved by any reader who is interested in the way that ordinary people with a passion for the environment can make a difference. The historical view of life at the turn of the 20th Century is also delightful, and Edith Coleman's daughters are revealed as equally influential in the recording of natural science. Clode's writing reveals her own joy in communicating science in a way that would appeal to a non-scientific audience.
Highly recommended, for Adult nature lovers.
Carolyn Hull

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