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Trees in Paradise: A California Historyby Jared Farmer
Synopses & Reviews
Brown was the dominant hue of California, a largely treeless landscape in the 1850s. American settlers quickly began to “improve” the scene, planting millions of trees to create groves, wooded suburbs, and landscaped cities. A century later eucalypts defined the look of lowland California; profitable citrus colonies dominated the Southland; and graceful palms spoke of Los Angeles style. Meanwhile, the old-growth redwood forests of the North Coast became infrastructure, transformed by the saw teeth of American enterprise.
This new landscape was no paradise: eucalypts exploded in fire; orange groves froze on cold nights; palms harbored rats and dropped heavy fronds on streets below. Disease, infestation, and sprawl all spelled decline for these nonnative evergreens. In the north, however, a new forest of second-growth redwood took root, nurtured by public and private action. In this dazzling account, history and nature combine to yield a rich new perspective on the Golden State.
"In this meticulously researched tome, Farmer (On Zion's Mount) explores California's history and politics through the lens of four of the state's most notable trees: redwood, eucalyptus, orange, and palm. 'California's genius may be green, but its underlying beauty is brown,' notes the author. 'By transforming the treescape, Californians did more than make dreams reality. They altered ecosystems.' To his point, surprisingly, most of the trees associated with the Golden State didn't originate there. Eucalyptus was imported from Australia and orange trees came from Spain (they often needed to be heated with oil pots during cold snaps). Most California palms are not native to the state, with the exception of the fan palm, although they do thrive in Southern California's coastal areas. Yet despite being arboreal immigrants, each became a symbol of a different part of the state: redwoods are associated with Northern California, oranges with Southern California, palms with Hollywood, and eucalyptus throughout. (For those interested in learning more, Farmer includes a detailed list of suggestions for further reading.) The book offers a thorough look at the natural aspects of this massive, diverse state, and while extremely detailed, Farmer's engaging prose holds readers attention." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Readers of John McPhee will enjoy this brilliant landscape history of California from the Gold Rush to the present.
From roots to canopy, a lush, verdant history of the making of California.
California now has more trees than at any time since the late Pleistocene. This green landscape, however, is not the work of nature. It's the work of history. In the years after the Gold Rush, American settlers remade the California landscape, harnessing nature to their vision of the good life. Horticulturists, boosters, and civic reformers began to "improve" the bare, brown countryside, planting millions of trees to create groves, wooded suburbs, and landscaped cities. They imported the blue-green eucalypts whose tangy fragrance was thought to cure malaria. They built the lucrative "Orange Empire" on the sweet juice and thick skin of the Washington navel, an industrial fruit. They lined their streets with graceful palms to announce that they were not in the Midwest anymore.
About the Author
Jared Farmer, a Utah native and former Californian, is the author of On Zion's Mount, a landscape history awarded the prestigious Parkman Prize for literary excellence. He teaches history at Stony Brook University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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» History and Social Science » Americana » California