Tuesday, 21 November 2017      Home | Membership

Vinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo SliderVinaora Nivo Slider

The Tree; a natural history of what trees are, how they live and why they matter

Trees are full of secrets. Under their serene and placid beauty complex machinery works fiendishly hard to maintain the long supply lines. In his book, The Tree, Colin Tudge brings an easy style born of rich understanding and broad knowledge to a generic topic.

Trees are full of secrets. Under their serene and placid beauty complex machinery works fiendishly hard to maintain the long supply lines. In Oak: the frame of civilization William Logan devoted many pages to the extraordinary difficulties the forester faces in deciding when to cut a tree down and having done it, whether in fact it yielded the good timber he expected. He simply could not tell from the outside even after years of experience.

Colin Tudge has had a long and distinguished career in science writing. He has made a special study of genetics and evolution. In Mendel’s Footnotes is just one of his books. His work is deeper than just popularizing. He is a true interface between difficult basic concepts and research and the public. In this book, The Tree, he brings an easy style born of rich understanding and broad knowledge to a generic topic. How, after all, does one cover everything to do with all those massive organisms which populate the earth? The problem lies in sorting the material.

Tudge offers introductory sections on what trees have in common with all living things. He opens with a chapter headed ” Trees in Mind; simple questions with complicated answers”. He asks, “what is a tree?” and perhaps a trifle disingenuously answers himself by saying it is a big plant with a stick up the middle. This takes us all the way back to kindergarten.

He points out that trees do not move, that trees are parts of families of plants and that they have enormous difficulty competing on a continuous basis for survival. Reproducing itself is one the hardest things a tree can do. One follows along with him very comfortably. Much of what he says makes excellent sense and a few of his counter- intuitive insights break up any sense of complacency. I thought the content would be excellent for my 13 year old grandson.

Just as I was settling in for the ride he hit us with cladistics. The classification of plants has been changing out of all recognition over the past twenty years. With each generation of taxonomists, new methods have been employed to improve our understanding of how plants are related. In my recent notes about the iris I commented that the classification of this plant has changed due to the use of DNA tests.

Tudge now tells us that even DNA has flaws and is not the final word. Enter cladistics. This is not the place to define it but cladistics takes us from the 8th grade to post-graduate level. The reason I comment on this at some length is the old question for whom the book is intended. It may be that I am out of touch and that cladistics are taught in junior high school.

In the following sections Tudge takes us on a glorious journey around the world, looking at many families of trees and their habitats. Once again it is a mixture of the well- known and the unexpected. One still has the feeling that he is writing well within himself, jogging along easily atop of great depth.

Foresters are the sensible custodians of the forests, caught up in mundane tasks. They do not sit open-mouthed under their trees and wonder about their place in the biological world. This is what Colin Tudge invites us to do in his book. Other writers such as Thomas Pakenham, have praised rare arboreal specimens, treating ancient trees as if they were human individuals. There is a baobab tree in India which occupies a solid acre with its auxiliary aerial roots. As people become more and more concerned about the wild environment, Tudge’s book serves a very useful purpose. It anchors occasionally fluffy ideas in solid reality.

One small cavil: I wish the editor had been a little more assertive. Page after page with phrases and sentences uselessly clothed in parentheses become annoying after a while. This stylistic quirk is present in his other books but it interferes with the enjoyment of his work.

Copyright © Judith M. Taylor MD   November 2006

The Tree; a natural history of what trees are, how they live and why they matter
Colin Tudge

New York, Crown Publishers -2006

Review by Judith M. Taylor, M. D.
www.horthistoria.com
The San Francisco Garden Club
Member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society

About the Massachusetts Horticultural Society

Mass Hort logo newFounded in 1829, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public's enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.

2017-2018 Calendar & Courses

2017-2018 Calendar and Courses

Mass Hort Classes & Events

Fri Nov 24 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sat Nov 25 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sun Nov 26 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Wed Nov 29 @ 4:00PM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Thu Nov 30 @ 4:00PM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Fri Dec 01 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sat Dec 02 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sat Dec 02 @ 1:00PM - 03:00PM
Make Your Own Herbal Gifts
Sat Dec 02 @ 4:00PM - 06:00PM
Holiday Hort Gifts
Sun Dec 03 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Wed Dec 06 @ 4:00PM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Thu Dec 07 @ 4:00PM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Fri Dec 08 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sat Dec 09 @10:00AM - 08:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Sun Dec 10 @10:00AM - 06:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Mon Dec 11 @10:00AM - 06:00PM
Festival of Trees and Snow Village
Tue Jan 09 @ 1:30PM - 03:00PM
Tour: Harvard's Glass Flower Collection
Tue Jan 16 @ 7:00PM - 08:30PM
Botany for the Home Gardener
Wed Jan 17 @10:00AM - 02:00PM
Designing the Winter Landscape
Thu Jan 18 @ 7:00PM - 08:30PM
Grow Your Own Succulent Container
Sat Jan 20 @10:00AM - 02:00PM
Greenhouse Growing and Maintenance
Wed Jan 24 @10:00AM - 04:00PM
Digital Photography: Capturing Botanic Images
Thu Jan 25 @ 7:00PM - 09:00PM
Landscaping and Planting Design