Oil on Canvas, 48" x 60", 2016
Orchid: Phragmipedium kovachii
Native Range: Northeastern Peruvian Andes
Conservation Status: Critically endangered
“The inspiration for this painting, Phragmipedium kovachii commonly known as the Peruvian Giant Slipper Orchid, is said to be one of the most striking and controversial orchid discoveries of the past century. With sweeping petals reaching up to 10” across, I depicted the orchid as imposing, yet vulnerable, against a backdrop of jungle mist and mystery.
Discovered in the sun-filtered mountain cloud forests of Peru in 2002, this orchid was nearly extinct within one year of its discovery due to illegal over-collection because if its beauty. An estimated 5,000 Phragmipedium kovachii plants including seedlings were stripped from at least two of its known habitats between its formal description in 2002 and a return to the habitat in 2003 making “Obsession” an apt title for this painting.
The story of intrigue goes that Michael Kovach, an American orchid collector, purchased the orchid from a Peruvian roadside vendor. He transported the plant illegally to Florida where it was officially named and described at Selby Botanical Gardens.
All Phragmipedium and Paphiopedilum orchid species are strictly controlled by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which is an international agreement between governments, created to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Selby Gardens rushed to name and publish the spectacular new species, Phragmipedium kovachii, in their scientific journal, even knowing that at the same time another American orchid expert would publish his description of the same plant which was legally obtained in a different scientific journal.
An investigation by US authorities and the Peruvian government ensued and on June 10th, 2004 the US District Court in Tampa, Florida sentenced Michael Kovach to a two-year probation and a $1,000 fine for illegally transporting the orchid specimen from Peru to the United States. Selby Gardens was also fined and saw its CITES permit revoked.
As to the official name, it was determined by the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants that "if all names based on specimens illegally collected or named after persons who have acted unwisely ... were to be rejected, we might have some major nomenclatural instability." And thus, the name remained the same.
In its native habitat, Phragmipedium kovachii is still critically endangered at present due to over-collection. The good news is that the Peruvian government developed a conservation and propagation program with the United States through which seed-grown plants are now being supplied to the international market, transforming the breeding of hybrids crossed with this incredibly beautiful orchid.”