The story of a single tree, from the moment the seed is released from its cone until, more than five hundred years later, it lies on the forest floor as a nurse log, giving life to ferns, mosses, and hemlocks, even as its own life is ending.
In this unique biography, David Suzuki and Wayne Grady tell story that spans a millennium and includes a cast of millions but focuses on a single tree, a Douglas fir, Tree describes in poetic detail the organism’s modest origins that begin with a dramatic burst of millions of microscopic grains of pollen. The authors recount the amazing characteristics of the species, how they reproduce and how they receive from and offer nourishment to generations of other plants and animals. The tree’s pivotal role in making life possible for the creatures around it — including human beings — is lovingly explored. The richly detailed text and Robert Bateman’s original art pay tribute to this ubiquitous organism that is too often taken for granted.
Revised edition with a foreword by Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees.
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About the Author
David Suzuki is an internationally renowned geneticist and environmentalist and a recipient of UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science and the 2009 Right Livelihood Award. Host of the long-running CBC television program The Nature of Things, he is also the author of more than fifty books.
Wayne Grady is one of Canada’s finest science writers, as well as a novelist and a Governor General’s Award–winning translator. He has authored thirteen books of nonfiction, translated fourteen novels, and edited more than a dozen anthologies of short stories and creative nonfiction.
Peter Wohlleben is the acclaimed author of the international bestsellers The Hidden Life of Trees and The Inner Life of Animals. He spent over twenty years working for the forestry commission in Germany before leaving to put his ecological ideas into practice. Today he manages a forest academy and an environmentally friendly woodland in Germany, where he is working for the return of primeval forests.
Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction:
Rooted securely in the earth, trees reach toward the heavens. All across the planet, treesin a wonderful profusion of form and functionliterally hold the world together. Their leaves receive the Sun’s energy for the benefit of all terrestrial creatures and transpire torrents of water vapor into the atmosphere. Their branches and trunks provide shelter, food, and habitat for mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and other plants. And their roots anchor the mysterious underworld of rock and soil. Trees are among Earth’s longest-lived organisms; their lives span periods of time that extend far beyond our existence, experience, and memory. Trees are remarkable beings. Yet they stand like extras in life’s drama, always there as backdrops to the ever-changing action around them, so familiar and omnipresent that we barely take notice of them.
From Chapter 1: Birth
A lightening bolt illuminates the sky, striking the highest point of the forested ridge. The fire does not start at the top, however, where the trees are young and strong, but slightly lower down, where over the years snags and fallen branches have accumulated to form a stack of dried kindling. One standing snag smolders for days, dropping live embers onto the rocky soil beneath it. The coals spread into the surrounding litter and ignite a ground fire, which enflames small twigs and dropped cones in its path. The fire licks up and tickles the lower dead branches of the living trees, quickly ascending the ladder of interlaced branches into the resinous middle story, where it burns with such fierce intensity that it consumes all the oxygen in the surrounding air and reaches a temperature well above the flash point of living wood. Then, like a suddenly opened damper in a firebox, a charge of fresh oxygen borne in by the opportune wind is whipped by atmospheric convection, and all the flames in the world seem instantly, as if by some devilish magic, to explode into the forest canopy.
Table of ContentsChapter 1: Birth
This chapter begins in the 13th century as a seed from a Douglas-fir falls to the ground and lands on a patch of soil, where it lies dormant through the winter. The chapter also describes how millions of years ago the first primitive plants invaded land from the sea and how some of them, in their Darwinian struggle for light, became trees.
Chapter 2: Taking Root
In spring the seed takes root and begins to form xylem and phloem. This chapter examines this miraculous system of transport within the tree, as well as the development of the tree’s stem and leaves and the vital process of photosynthesis.
Chapter 3: Growth
At the beginning of this chapter, the tree’s root system has expanded and has begun its relationship with underground fungi, which connect the roots of the tree to nearby trees. This chapter also discusses the many types of insects, birds, and mammals that now make their homes in the tree or use it for temporary refuge and explains the reproductive process, which begins after the growing tree has developed male and female cones.
Chapter 4: Maturity
The tree is now 250 years old and, like all trees of its age, has developed rich, complex relationships with other members of the forest, which are described in this chapter. It has also made good use of its complex arsenal of weapons against drought, insects, fungal infestations, wind, fire, and other stresses, and the chapter discusses this incredible defense system as well. By the end of the chapter, the tree is 500 years old and has reached maturity.
Chapter 5: Death
In the final chapter, the tree begins to decay and die. This chapter looks at the last stages in the tree’s life; as a snag, it is home to many species, and after it falls to the ground it becomes a nurse log for other species of trees. At the end of the chapter, a new seed sends its roots into the ground and begins a new story.
What People are Saying About This
"From the tiny seed of a single Douglas-fir, David Suzuki and Wayne Grady have grown a wonderful book, learned but lovely, thorough but terse. It’s as big as all life." — David Quammen, author of The Song of the Dodo and The Tangled Tree
"Read Tree. You will find wonder, magic and awe instead of the usual flight-or-fight responses when you read about our ailing natural world. David Suzuki and Wayne Grady have hit exactly the right note."— Globe and Mail
"This book is both a touching look at a single tree and an articulate testimony to nature’s cyclic power." — Publishers Weekly
"This happy melding of history, natural history, and biography is further enhanced by Robert Bateman’s fine illustrations to create an instructive and graceful look at the interconnectedness of life." — Booklist
"Tree: A Life Story is highly recommended. It is genuinely a celebration of the wonders of nature and how perfectly its constituents interact and depend on one another." — Science Books & Films