September 19, 2017

Trees lovely trees

A review of: The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Trees, Timbers And Forests Of The World. Edited by Herbert Edlin and Maurice Nimmo. Salamander Books Ltd.


The first thing to say about this book is that it is an incredibly good buy at the price. It is beautifully illustrated throughout with a mass of coloured drawings and photographs, and contains a wealth of information.

It is divided into four sections entitled respectively: The World of Trees and Timbers, A Guide to Conifers, A Guide to the Broad-leaves, and Tropical and Southern Hemisphere Trees. There are twelve authors including the editors who between them have written the whole of the second and third sections.

The first chapter by Herbert Edlin provides an overview, one that is unfortunately commercial forestry-orientated. Thus its author Herbert Edlin tells us that ‘Within the foreseeable future mankind will no longer be able to afford the luxury of vast virgin forest reserves, dedicated perhaps to the preservation of only a few rare birds, beasts, bugs or flowers. Timber production from manmade, man-managed forests is so much more efficient than that from unplanned natural regrowth that our successors will have to rely on it just as we already rely on cultivated crops and domestic animals for our food’. The author has obviously never learnt that natural forests have a lot of very much more important functions than providing wood for the lumber industry. However these deficiencies are made up, to a certain extent, by the authors of the next chapters Allen Paterson, Dr Pat Morris and Dr. Mary Burgis who describe what are the main features of forest ecology.

The next two sections which cover the bulk of the book are devoted to describing the main genera of broadleaved trees and conifers that are likely to be encountered in the western world including some exotics which have been imported from elsewhere.

In the introductory chapter of the section on Southern Hemisphere trees, the author describes what must be one of the greatest catastrophes ever to befall our planet; the destruction of the world’s remaining tropical forests. Even areas set aside by governments as biological reserves for scientific and cultural studies and as national parks, he informs us ‘are, in many countries, under constant threat of the axe and uncontrolled farming’. Only, it seems, when a country is on the verge of becoming a net importer of forest products will most governments really apply themselves to improving and caring for their forests.

The speed with which previously major exporters of tropical woods have passed into timber deficits is quite startling. ‘If trees had votes’ he suggests ‘it might have been another story.’

This section also contains a good chapter on swamp and desert trees and an equally interesting one on palm trees. All other Southern Hemisphere trees however are lumped together into a single chapter, to which, one cannot help feeling, a little more space could have been devoted, especially if we consider that it is dealing with the bulk of the world’s different tree genera. But then this book is primarily designed for readers in the Northern Hemisphere who have little time left in which to make the long journey that would enable them to appreciate many of these trees in the wild.

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