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Books on Trees

I’m aware that books don’t grow on trees, although one of my regular readers wishes they did. I don’t know about the other two readers. Anyway, I have in mind books about trees. I take pride in the variety of my gardening library, but my fourteen books about trees outnumber any other subject. These are not all narratives and discussions; some are guides to identification. But because I’ve loved trees since childhood, I’ve read the entire former category and often consult the others.

Worthy of first mention is a Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Powers’ book The Overstory. It’s a novel, but the central characters are trees, particularly large trees. The attitudes and actions of human beings, of course, bring out the amazing character of trees, and although you will wonder that the plot seems to disappear, the variety of characters and actions will hold tight your attention. In the process, one sees important and wonderful aspects of large trees, things one would never have imagined. I’ll lend you my copy.

There’s no possibility of putting down The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They live, and Why They Matter, by Colin Tudge. There are a few words that you may not have encountered before, but it is by no means a purely technical discussion. A different approach is Chris Maser’s Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest. Maser writes of a forest in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains that he has known since childhood. He explains the development of the forest from its beginning in the year 988, discussing all the influences, animal, vegetal and mineral, that brought about its maturity today. This book explained to me for the first time fully and exactly what and how Mycorrhizal fungi do for the benefit of the tree.

A most entertaining and valuable book is published by The American Chestnut Foundation, with various editors and authors and artists. Here you’ll find anything you ever wanted to know about the American chestnut tree, including progress toward growing a specimen immune to the blight that wiped out the species years ago. An attractive book with copious illustrations and art, Mighty Giants: an American Chestnut Anthology is a real winner.

It seems almost sacrilegious, but trees, as you may have heard, are harvested for the use of us human beings. Especially if you have wooden articles or structures that you favor, you will enjoy Harvey Green’s Wood: Craft, Culture, History.

Guidebooks, of course, often—even usually—go beyond identification, to include natural location, growth habits, uses and more. David Allen Sibley, whose bird books now lead most others in quality, has published his Guide to Trees in his usual meticulous manner, and it is somewhere near the top of the list. The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Trees is published for both eastern and western regions and is quite useful in all respects, but especially for the marvelous color photographs of bark, leaf, flower and fruit, with drawings of the entire tree.

Authors don’t usually follow the approach of existing books, of course, and as individuals we must choose those that suit us best. Yes, I said “those.” A single book, I’ve found, on any subject is never enough. A volume close in quality to the Audubon Society’s is Broadleaved Shrubs and Shade Trees, by Mary Kay Malinoski and David C. Clement. The color photos are not as large as those in Audubon, but they include insects, molds, cankers, blights and other enemies of the plants. A very good book is Trees of North America, by C. Frank Brockman. It’s a good back-pocket book, with excellent color illustrations as needed for identification.

I will pass over Dr. Dirr’s works, assuming that Master Gardeners are at least familiar with their purpose and value. I close with the opening lines of Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline.”

This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

“Harpers hoar” refers to the players of harps and their hoary –white--beards (as in “hoar frost).

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Oct 12, 2020


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