book reviews

Tree books
Reviewed by: T.J. Nelson
Last updated November 12, 2006

Most people are familiar with the genus of small paperback books popularly known as "tree books" ( Libri treeus identificationii). These books, which are usually observed in their younger "paperback" stages, may be readily identified by their smooth shiny bark, the loss of pages that occurs every autumn (indicative of their deciduous nature), and the characteristic curling and delamination of their outer layers as the book ages. Unfortunately, these books have largely succumbed to tree book rot and are rarely seen nowadays, although occasional specimens may still be found in places like the Amazon. Below are brief reviews of some of the specimens that I have encountered.

Trees of the Northern United States and Canada
by J.L. Farrar (502 pages)

T his book was originally published as "Native Trees of Canada", but it soon became apparent that, as there are only three different types of tree in Canada (the red maple tree, the pine tree, and Stephen Harper) that the scope of the book was in dire need of expansion. A book with only three pages tends not to sell well. Therefore, all instances of "Canada" throughout the book were replaced by "Canada and the Northern United States", and the book was retitled and sold to us unsuspecting Yanks down south. Even so, the book is exceptionally well organized, beautifully printed, and full of high-resolution color images, maps and diagrams. Very concise; there are only about six complete sentences in the whole book. Each tree is on a separate page, with diagrams, photos, descriptions, and a distribution map all organized together. The maps chop off all states south of Pennsylvania and Oregon, which is a bit embarrassing when the topic is the Kentucky coffeetree, don't you think eh?

The Tree Identification Book: A New Method for the Practical Identification and Recognition of Trees
by G. W. D. Symonds and S. V. Chelminski (272 pages)

S ince this book was published in 1958 and recently re-released as an 8×10 paperback, it's probably safe for me to say that the best way to use this book to identify trees is by holding it next to the tree, burning it, and using the light to examine the tree more closely. While it is true that it has over 1500 illustrations--in fact, there is very little text in the book, which makes my job as a reviewer easy--the figures are all black & white and of poor quality. This isn't just a matter of visual appeal. Many of the photographs are seriously under- or over-exposed or blurry. Even the authors seem to have recognized that color is essential for tree identification; the section on fruits and berries has the color name printed under each photograph. However, great care has been taken to print all the figures at the same size for comparison. This is particularly effective in the section on pine cones. Another useful feature is that, unlike Trees of the Northern United States and Canada, where each tree has its own page, in The Tree Identification Book all the twigs, bark, leaves, etc. are lined up next to each other for comparison. If only the pictures were clear enough to see them.

Tree Maintenance, 6th ed
by P. P. Pirone et al. (514 pages)

T his classic textbook by P.P. Pirone and three of his minions ... er, associates ... features several photographs of Dr Pirone examining and spraying various trees. The book is organized into three sections. The first section has chapters on soil, transplanting trees, fertilizers, and pruning. The second section discusses diagnosis and treatment of tree problems, including nonparasitic factors (such as girdling roots and air pollution), insects, and parasitic diseases. The third section is an alphabetical list of trees along with their characteristic diseases and treatments if any. Unfortunately, in most cases the only treatment decision is whether to remove the affected limb or to chop down the tree. This book is not much use in diagnosing tree problems because of the lack of color illustrations, but it's one of the best for information on maintaining trees. This book won't turn you into a botanist, but will provide an excellent understanding of how to take care of your trees.

Diseases of Trees and Shrubs
by W. A. Sinclair, H. H. Lyon, and W. T. Johnson (575 pages, large format)

T his mature specimen (standing over 12" tall) is a magnificent and award-winning work on phytopathology. Odd-numbered pages consist of color plates showing samples of diseased bark, leaves, or twigs, while even-numbered pages give a description of the disease, symptoms, progression, and treatment. The book has over 2000 references to the scientific literature. The color plates are not as high resolution as in Trees of the Northern United States and Canada, but are still excellent. The only problem with this book is that it has no discernable organization. The book is not organized by tree species, but by diseases, which are presented in an apparently random manner. This makes the book difficult to use unless the reader already knows generally what the problem is with the tree. Subjects include leaf blights, leaf spots, rusts, root rot, wilts, fungus, cankers, anthracnoses, virus diseases, mistletoes, parasites, and injuries caused by drought, cold, and other factors. The text is more technical than the other books described here, but still easily accessible to nonspecialists. [Disclaimer: I have not read this book in its entirety.]

Landscaping with Native Trees
by G. Sternberg and J. Wilson (288 pages)

T he purpose of this book is to help the reader decide which species to plant. Organized by tree species. Each species has a description of the tree, its native range, a summary of the problems to expect with the tree, and comments. Non-technical. Found in hardware stores (in the lumber section). Has numerous high-quality color photos, many of which are quite artistic.

Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia
by M.A. Dirr (493 pages)

D irr provides his personal opinions on a variety of trees commonly used in landscaping. Not as many factual details as Farrar's book, but covers a wider variety of trees. Dirr focuses on the fashionability, appearance, and potential problems with each tree, focusing on its suitablity as a horticultural specimen. He gives valuable and occasionally witty advice that helps keep the writing style from being dry and wooden, as happens in some other books that we won't mention. This book has colorful foliage, I mean illustrations, of each tree.

Field and Laboratory Guide to Tree Pathology
by R.O. Blanchard and T. A. Tattar (285 pages)

T his book can be readily identified by its small size and distinctive green and white cover. Contains basic information on several important tree diseases, along with some rudimentary plant culture techniques that can be used in even the most poorly-equipped and out-of-date laboratory. The diseases are illustrated by poor-quality grayscale images, photomicrographs, and drawings. This book is available second-hand at very low cost.