In the Trees | Science Reviews

Curious about the trees in your backyard, neighborhood, or region? Learn more, whether from a guide by the National Audubon Society, a memoir by Suzanne Simard, or a natural history by Peter Wohlleben.

Trees of North AmericaredstarNational Audubon Society. National Audubon Society Trees of North America. Knopf. Apr. 2021. 592p. ISBN 9780525655718. $39.95. NAT HIST
The first updated edition of the National Audubon Society’s tree guidebook since 1980 has a completely revised format. No longer split into eastern and western regions, the new guide covers the entirety of North America. Gone is the division of the guide into photos, separate from descriptions; now information about each tree is found alongside photos (of the tree itself and its leaves, bark, flowers, nuts/berries) and range map. The guide is organized by tree family (cypress, elm, beech, willow, palm, etc.) and includes shrubs and invasive species. Each tree description includes flowers, fruit, habitat, range, uses, similar species, and conservation status, with codes ranging from "least concern" through "critically endangered" and "extinct." The book opens with essays on tree biology topics, a guide to identification, and a discussion of tree conservation; it closes with brief descriptions of each tree family, glossary, and index. The only drawback to the new guide, compared to the slimmer 1980 edition, is that it will no longer fit into a narrow pocket. VERDICT A must-have reference book for plant enthusiasts and anyone who has ever asked, "What kind of tree is that?"—Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL

Finding the Mother TreeredstarSimard, Suzanne. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Knopf. May. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9780525656098. $30. NAT HIST
Simard (forest ecology, Univ. of British Columbia) tells the story of her pioneering research on trees' use of fungal networks to nourish and communicate with one other: the so-called "wood-wide web." There should be strong interest in Simard's memoir, as she is something of a star among tree lovers and was the inspiration for the character Patricia Westerford in Richard Powers's Pulitzer Prize–winner The Overstory. Here, readers follow along as Simard’s research develops, and as she discovers that plant communities are driven by not only competition but cooperation as well: different tree species share resources with trees in need, "mother" trees send carbon to seedlings, and dying trees donate nutrients to neighbors. Simard celebrates pivotal moments, navigates personal crises, and admits to professional doubts; all told in a smoothly written narrative. The risks and rigors of her field work—conducting experiments with radioactive materials, navigating salmon runs while being aware of wild animals within and around the forest—are keenly felt, as are the challenges facing a reticent woman working for change in the way we manage forests. There are photographs of trees throughout. VERDICT Simard’s science fascinates, and so too does her life. This is an engaging memoir of scientific discovery.—Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont

Heartbeat of TreesWohlleben, Peter. The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature. Greystone. May. 2021. 264p. ISBN 9781771646895. $26.95. NAT HIST
The best selling author of The Hidden Life of Trees revisits a favorite subject. While Hidden Life focused on arboreal wonders, Wohlleben's new book (originally published in Germany in 2019) is as much about human life as it is about trees. Humanity’s bond with nature has not been severed, Wohlleben claims, just forgotten. In his trademark conversational style, he explains why we feel good around trees and how, by opening our senses, we can benefit from them. The book's rambling form, appropriately, is like a walk in the woods: 31 short chapters or essays cover diverse topics, including our historical connections to trees, trees' electrical fields, forest bathing, invasive species, climate change, and more. Along the way, Wohlleben takes some jabs at conservative science, industrial forestry, and greenwashing in its many guises. He urges hope, not despair, about our environmental malaise, and closes with a message: laws and regulations won’t save our forest friends, but we can, if only we can reconnect with nature through empathy. VERDICT Finding "fascinating phenomena all over the place," Wohlleben sticks with the formula that made his earlier work so popular. This latest book will appeal to fans of popular science and anyone curious about natural history.—Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont

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