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Botanicult Fiction: James Bond and the Orchid Connection

April 6, 2020

Are you a fan of martini’s shaken not stirred, James Bond and also like orchids? If so the book for you during self isolation might be Ian Fleming’s ‘On Her Majesties Secret Service’.

In Fleming’s tenth Bond novel, British Secret Service operative 007, finds himself involved in Operation Bedlam trailing the private criminal organisation SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Not a lot of people know that whilst writing the book, Fleming had a chance meeting with Victor Summerhayes, a former keeper of Kew’s orchid herbarium. This led to Summerhayes making a brief appearance in the novel and referred to as the orchid king. This also inspired the reveal that M, (Admiral Miles Messervy) Head of the Secret Intelligence Service and Bond’s superior relaxes by painting wild orchids. M, with suitable patriotic zeal paints only the wild orchids of England, considering their tropical counterparts hideous. He considers Spiranthes spiralis (Autumn Lady’s-Tresses) to be particularly fine.

This is not the only example of the Bond novels being influenced by exotic plants, flowers, and natural history. For the next installment we shall take a look at Ian Fleming’s ‘You Only Live Twice’ and 007’s adventures in the Garden of Death. Muahahaha!

Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading pleasure.

by Alex Henderson (Curator of Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens)