Synopses & Reviews
Trees have been essential to the success of human beings, providing food, shelter, warmth, transportation, and products (consider the paper you are holding). Trees are also necessary for a healthy atmosphere, literally connecting the earth with the sky. Once in wild abundance— the entire eastern North America was a gigantic forest—they have receded as we have clearcut the landscape in favor of building cities and farms, using up and abusing our forests in the process. Over the centuries, we have trained food trees, such as peach and apple trees, to produce more and better fruit at the expense of their lives. As Jeff Gillman, a specialist in the production and care of trees, explains in his acclaimed work, How Trees Die: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Forests, the death of a tree is as important to understanding our environment as how it lives. While not as readily apparent as other forms of domestication, our ancient and intimate relationship with trees has caused their lives to be inseparably entwined with ours. The environment we have created—what we put into the air and into the water, and how we change the land through farming, construction, irrigation, and highways—affects the world’s entire population of trees, while the lives of the trees under our direct care in farms, orchards, or along a city boulevard depend almost entirely on our actions. Taking the reader on a fascinating journey through time and place, the author explains how we kill trees, often for profit, but also unintentionally with kindness through overwatering or overmulching, and sometimes simply by our movements around the globe, carrying foreign insects or disease. No matter how a tree’s life ends, though, understanding the reason is essential to understanding the future of our environment.
"Horticultural scientist Gillman (The Truth About Organic Gardening) examines the astounding longevity of trees. Beginning with a provocative opener comparing the fate of cows raised for meat to the life-span of trees cut down to make paper for books, Gillman delineates the incursions made by expanding development, commercial tree farms, air pollution and pests (encouraging sophisticated methods for controlling pests, like 'a careful analysis of their sex life,' to impede reproduction). Analyzing the life cycle of trees-their greatest vulnerability as juveniles, their hardy reproductive phase, the deceleration of growth as the distance from root to treetop increases-Gillman also highlights some amazing specimens, including the oldest tree alive today, a 9,500 year-old Norwegian oak. Gillman takes an interesting survey of trees grown from seeds and those grown commercially from shoots, grafts, cuttings, etc.; he also looks at 'meristems,' which play the same role in plants as stem cells do in animals (plants that are cloned, like the sheep Dolly, appear to die from premature aging). Written for the lay reader, this interesting scientific tour should capture the imagination of casual naturalists." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
JEFF GILLMAN is associate professor of horticultural science at the University of Minnesota. He is author of The Truth About Organic Gardening.