Trees in Paradise
August 11, 2019 9:50 AM - by Jared Farmer - Subscribe

California now has more trees than at any time since the late Pleistocene. This green landscape, however, is not the work of nature. It's the work of history. In the years after the Gold Rush, American settlers remade the California landscape, harnessing nature to their vision of the good life. Horticulturists, boosters, and civic reformers began to "improve" the bare, brown countryside, planting millions of trees to create groves, wooded suburbs, and landscaped cities. They imported the blue-green eucalypts whose tangy fragrance was thought to cure malaria. They built the lucrative "Orange Empire" on the sweet juice and thick skin of the Washington navel, an industrial fruit. They lined their streets with graceful palms to announce that they were not in the Midwest anymore.

To the north the majestic coastal redwoods inspired awe and invited exploitation. A resource in the state, the durable heartwood of these timeless giants became infrastructure, transformed by the saw teeth of American enterprise. By 1900 timber firms owned the entire redwood forest; by 1950 they had clear-cut almost all of the old-growth trees.

In time California's new landscape proved to be no paradise: the eucalypts in the Berkeley hills exploded in fire; the orange groves near Riverside froze on cold nights; Los Angeles's palms harbored rats and dropped heavy fronds on the streets below. Disease, infestation, and development all spelled decline for these nonnative evergreens. In the north, however, a new forest of second-growth redwood took root, nurtured by protective laws and sustainable harvesting. Today there are more California redwoods than there were a century ago.

Rich in character and story, Trees in Paradise is a dazzling narrative that offers an insightful, new perspective on the history of the Golden State and the American West.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (5 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
This book is fucking incredible. If you read any of the books I’ve posted about- read this one. It’s the biggest book I’ve read in a while, clocking in at over 400 pages and worth every last second of reading time. The history of California is in its trees, both ancient and new. This book isn’t just the history of trees (and a grass- palms botanically are not trees) it’s the history of environmentalism and colonialism and racism and eugenics and agriculture and culture and fire. Farmer’s research is both broad and deep leading to a book that can have a lively digression on the origins of a scientific name one one page, and on the next page hoisting Teddy Roosevelt on his own shitty racist petard. And the conclusions are as mixed and messy as the state of California! Are eucalyptus beautiful or devil fire trees? Well depends on the eucalyptus! Are loggers the enemy or unfairly maligned? Depends on the logger and the tree! The best part of this book is TEN PAGES of further reading at the end of it, so oooooh boy I have even more books to read about every conceivable topic brought up in this book. 10/10 it’s a good book bront.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:56 AM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Thank you for posting, this looks wonderful! (And I can get it at my library yayyyy!!) I thought for sure you'd posted because of this recent MetaTalk prompt
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 4:37 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I was still reading the book when the metatalk prompt came up, it was that sort of perfect metafilter serendipity that happens from time to time! This one is so huge and well researched I feel like it’s gonna be at more libraries than not which is a huge bonus.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:23 PM on August 12


Just reserved this at the library, can’t wait to read it!
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:28 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Such a compelling write-up....I am checking into this.
posted by mightshould at 1:44 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


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