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Book Review: ‘The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees’ by David More and John White

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The-Illustrated-Encyclopedia-of-Trees-9780881927511If you’re contemplating trees, and you want to know the identification of a certain species, you can pull out a pocket field guide for trees to aid you. It should be as simple as that.

But if you’re tree-obsessed and the mere identification of a species doesn’t quell your curiosity – when an elm tree isn’t just an elm tree but a distant European hybrid cousin of an elm tree – then The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees (Second Edition, Princeton University Press, 2013) should satisfy the deeply rooted dendrologist within you.

This mammoth book (832 pages) identifies nearly 2,000 tree species and cultivars (cultivated through selection for desirable characteristics) found in Europe and North America. It offers an extensive history of the collecting and dispensing of tree seedlings.

Readers will discover Johnny Appleseed is not the only name in tree seed lore. Seventeenth-century European explorers, as colorful and animated as the celebrated Appleseed, adorned Western Europe with a host of new species discovered in Asia, which eventually found their way to American shores.

David More (illustrator) and John White (writer) have produced a labor of love and their fascination for trees keeps the stiff scientific data from absorbing the pleasure of reading about these ancient mystical plants. Leisurely yet encyclopedic, the volume serves as a studied document of tree history beginning with ancient glaciers determining  tree distribution in northern Europe and America.  It also offers practical advice and knowledge for the average gardener and tree enthusiast.

More spent more than a decade painting illustrations from real specimens. The result is a colorful array of nature’s mightiest plants. A touch of whimsy graces the purely scientific illustrations as the artist includes attributes of a species, for instance a dog sitting lazily under the shade of a tree that offers protection from the sun.

While the book only studies trees of the northern temperate zone, it includes an illustrated chapter on southern tropical trees, an area of the globe greatly untapped in the identification, transfer, and planting of  tree species. It seems a likely hint at the volume to come from these tree-worshipping authors.

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