The Man Who Planted Trees & other books to start the New Year

Illustration by Julia Rothman, New York Times Book Review

Recently The New York Times Book Review featured inspiring new books about trees. At the top of the list? Jim Robbins’ “The Man Who Planted Trees.” According to Robbins, “trees and forests are the highest functioning members of ecological society.”

Below is an exerpt from Dominique Browning’s review:

His [Jim Robbins’] absorbing, eloquent and loving book, THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet (Spiegel & Grau, $25), chronicles the adventures of a veritable Noah of the tree world, David Milarch, a Michigan nurseryman who, following a near-death experience, began a quest to locate and save genetic material from some of the oldest and healthiest specimens. Thus the Champion Tree Project was born, with a goal of cloning the champion of each of 826 species of trees in the United States. Not since 1997, when Julia Butterfly Hill climbed a 1,500-year-old redwood and lived in it for two years to spare it from loggers, has one person done more to save trees.

Robbins, a Montana journalist who first described the project in The New York Times, writes of his own awakening — when he realized “that North America’s cordillera, the mountains that extend from Alaska to northern New Mexico, and that include my patch of forest, were ground zero for the largest die-off of forests in recorded history.” While Robbins’s tone is urgent, it doesn’t compromise his crystal-clear science. His descriptions highlight the interdependence of trees not only with their immediate surroundings — the rhizosphere, “the vast complex root system and the soil and the microorganisms affecting, and affected by, the roots” — but also with the planet as a whole, explaining the vital work performed by trees in cleaning pollutants from the air and absorbing some of the extra carbon that’s throwing off our climate’s balance, causing global warming. And he describes how trees serve as guardians of our fresh water systems.

Read more about this and other books about trees in The New York Times Book Review. Learn how you can plant trees with Friends of Trees.