Erica Hannickel

Phone: (715) 682-1490 Email:

SpecialtiesOrchids and the Botany of Freedom, Empresses and Orchids, Orchids and Gilded Age Gotham, Botanizing North American Orchids: A Brief History, Easy DIY Orchid Cabinet
FormatOnline and in-person
Provides plants for sale?No


Erica Hannickel is a nonfiction author and professor of history at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, as well as a master gardener. An orchid enthusiast for more than 20 years, she currently grows about 150 orchids at home on two baker’s carts and in a miniature orchid cabinet. Her most recent book Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022) chronicles little-known stories of orchids involving empresses, artists, enslaved people, and naturalists from around the world. The book was longlisted for the 2023 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, shortlisted for the 2023 Wisconsin Library Association Nonfiction Award, and won the 2023 Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Literature Award.

Talks and Abstracts


Orchids and the Botany of Freedom

This program focuses on Edmund Albius (1829-1880), an enslaved boy who first pollinated vanilla off the coast of Madagascar, and Charles Darwin’s second book, his “little book on orchids.” As a follow-up to Origin of Species, the orchid book scientifically investigated the flowers in new ways but surprisingly also advocated for the end to slavery in American and around the world.

Empresses and Orchids

This program tells a tale of two 19th century empresses who loved orchids. Empress Cixi of China (1835-1908) utilized the beauty and fragrance of cymbidiums and other Chinese orchids in her meteoric rise to power from concubine to China’s head of state. Empress Eugenie of France (1826-1920) used orchids to gain fame as a royal and as the 19th century’s foremost fashion maven--coelogynes, dendrobiums, and dozens of other genera grown in her greenhouses festooned her hair, clothes, parties, and palaces. The talk highlights powerful women, the fraught political connection between the two, and previously unknown moments in orchid history.

Orchids and Gilded Age Gotham

This program traces the unique impact orchids had on New York City, and conversely, the unsung impact New York City had on the international orchid trade. The first major public orchid show in America was held in a seedy dime museum in the Tenderloin district in the 1880s. Later, New York magnates and personalities Charles Roebling and AC Burrage made splashy efforts to hybridize orchids and grow orchid appreciation nationwide. Lastly, the surprisingly fraught establishment of the American Orchid Society in New York in the 1920s was a harbinger of things to come.

Easy DIY Orchid Cabinet

The Parvisepalum section are Eron’s favorite section of Paphiopedilum. This presentation covers the eight species that fall into this section and guidance on judging these unique Paphs. Data was compiled from numerous sources and this Paph section is very similar to Eron’s specialty of Phragmipediums.

Botanizing North American Orchids: A Brief History

This talk encounters several early botanists of North American orchids and their efforts to name (and rename) the treasures they found. Some were upstanding and by the book. Others, like C.S. Rafinesque (1783-1840)—described as insane, disagreeable, and “crack-brained” in his moment—nevertheless added to our knowledge of systematic botany and several popularly grown orchid genera and species today.