Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: What Tree Is That? By The Arbor Day Foundation

What Tree Is That?: A guide to the more common trees found in North America

By The Arbor Day Foundation

The book for today’s review was provided by: GreenLeaf Book Group LLC

Have you ever visited a new place to find that the trees seem to be one nameless sea of green? One of my favorite aspects of travel to any place is the opportunity to see new flora. The Arbor Day Foundation’s latest book What Tree Is That? has just joined the ranks of handy references which I tote along for quick identification during travel.

What Tree Is That? works like a decision tree. The user navigates the book from the general to the specific, starting with location (region) and ending with botanical details like leaf size and shape.

On the big treasure map of tree identification books, What Tree Is That? would be the big red X marked “Start.” There is nothing intimidating about this guide: it fits comfortably in the hand with a durable plastic cover which features key tools like a glossary and a ruler.

Everything about this book lends itself to use with kids, in classrooms, and in everyday excursions to parks and gardens. There is no unapproachable terminology – every botanical word is clearly explained in the glossary. This makes What Tree Is That? effective not only in teaching about trees, but in helping users to learn about the process of tree identification, and the physiology of trees and plants.

What Tree Is That? is inviting. Users are welcomed to the book with a short note from Arbor Day CEO John Rosenow, addressed “Dear Friend”. Novices and experts alike can pick up this book and use it immediately. While this book does not pretend to be a comprehensive identification manual, it does provide the user with a great introduction to common trees of North America.

So why is it important to be able to identify common trees? Just as museums afford us a glimpse at our human history, trees and forests can teach us about our natural history.

I started by flipping ahead past the key and went straight to the mulberry trees. Remember when I was in Pennsylvania, trying to distinguish the black, white, red, and paper mulberries (only to find that they may even be wild hybrids)? This is one of the first books to help clear the air and distinguish each variety in clear, simple terms.

All pictures are hand-drawn which gives the book an attractive, consistent quality. Images reflect the main parts used for identification in this book: leaves, needles, fruits, flowers, and cones. The leaf shapes, qualities, and growth patterns are clearly explained to help those new to tree identification learn what to look for as they observe new species.

While traveling through Oregon in November, I tested out What Tree Is That? to see if it could pinpoint the giant pines growing in the Siskiyou Mountains. Let me walk you through the result:

START: I’m located West of the Rockies --> Go To 68A

68A: This tree bears cones with needle-like leaves (Conifers) --> Go To 69D

69D: Needles are arranged in clusters, tree is evergreen (Pines) --> Go To 70A

70A: Needles are clustered, cones thick and prickly --> Go To 70B

70B: Needles more than 2” long --> Go To 72A

72A: Needles 4-7” long, cones prickly --> 73A Ponderosa Pine (Pinus Ponderosa)

It took me about a minute to walk through these questions and find the tree. Each question discusses a key distinguishing feature allowing only a YES or NO response. This cuts down on confusion and makes it easier for those new to tree identification to get the right answer the first time.

When all trees appear as a nameless sea of green, it may be difficult to recognize the amazing and intricate natural processes which are an ever-present (however unnoticed) part of our lives. Easy-to-use books like What Tree Is That? can help us learn to look carefully, and observe. And once we begin looking and discovering what we once passed by unnoticed, we find ourselves looking for the next resource, asking the next question, and looking for the next tree.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good find. I will keep a look out for it.


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