"'When I had my own nursery I sometimes felt like all the people swarming around were going to eat me alive,' Laroche said. 'I felt like they were that gigantic parasitic plant and I was the dying host tree.'"

"You would have to want something very badly to go looking for it in the Fakahatchee Strand."

"If the ghost orchid was really only a phantom it was still such a bewitching one that it could seduce people to pursue it year after year and mile after miserable mile."

"Orchids grow slowly. They languish. They will produce a flower and a seedpod, maybe, and then rest for months at a time."

"Collecting can be a sort of love sickness. If you collect living things, you are pursuing something imperfectible, because even if you manage to find and possess the living thing you want, there is no guarantee they won't die or change."

"We were in a hall of clones, Laroche said, a room full of artificially made genetic copies. Some of the orchids we were looking at were grown from seed or taken as cuttings, but most of them were made in a lab."

"What is compelling about Florida is not just its ever-expanding quantity of land—it is the qualities that the land has come to represent. In the 1800s, agriculture was dominant in American life, and Florida was the American farmer's dream because of its cheap acreage and a ten-month growing season. By the 1900s, American ambitions shifted from good farming to 'the good life,' and Florida shifted with it—it still represented the farmer's dream, but it now also represented the middle-class dream of a place you could find health and warmth and leisure...a fresh, free, unspoiled start."

"Plants disappear all the time in south Florida. So do most other living things."

"Florida is powerfully attractive. It is less like a state than a sponge. People are drawn to it."

"As much as I marveled at Laroche's devotion to the things he was devoted to, I marveled even more at his capacity for detachment."

"I knew Laroche wanted me to see a ghost orchid as much or maybe more than I wanted to see it myself, but now I really wanted most of all to go home. At this point I realized it was just as well that I never saw a ghost orchid, so that it could never disappoint me, and so it would remain forever something I wanted to see."