In 2002, Christenson was hard at work on a description of a new species that had been discovered in Peru. Christenson, who lived in Bradenton surrounded by a 3,000-volume library of orchid references, had spent considerable time studying Peruvian orchids and had become a leading authority on them. He worked from photographs from colleagues in Peru.
The scientists at Selby Gardens named the flower Phragmipedium kovachii, after Kovach. They said it was the most spectacular orchid discovery in a hundred years and they sent out a news release about it. The orchid world was all atwitter.
On June 17, a livid Christenson published his description of the flower in Orchids magazine, a publication of the American Orchid Society. Christenson said the name should be Phragmipedium peruvianum, although some scientists didn't think that was a good name because there was another flower that had a similar name.
As for Christenson, he was vindicated but the name of the flower was never changed. The episode did bring Christenson world recognition though. "He was well known before that time but the kovachii incident made him famous around the world," California orchid grower Marni Turkel told the Bradenton Herald for his obituary. Christenson died in April of this year.
Christenson is well remembered in orchid circles. He did field work in Guyana and French Guiana as well as Peru, and wrote numerous books and articles about his findings. He worked with David Bennett of Lima in researching orchids in Peru, identifying more than 100 new species.
Christenson's vast library can be seen by appointment at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It contains numerous rare and unusual volumes, including a numbered, limited edition reprint of the 1837 edition of James Bateman's The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, a 1677 volume by Swiss botanist Caspar Bouhin, an 1887 edition of The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, published by his son Francis, and an 1846 first edition of a book by British botonist George Gardner.