The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Porter, Pamela J.
Pub Date: 08/01/2012
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: August, 2012 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 6
Topic: NamedWork: The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Robbins, Jim
Accession Number: 298172408
Full Text: The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet. By Jim Robbins. 2012. Spiegel & Grau. (ISBN 9781400069064). 240 pp. Hardback, $25.00 e-Book, $12.99.

"Planting trees may be the single most important ecotechnology that we have to put the broken pieces of our planet back together." With this statement, Jim Robbins explains his purpose in writing this book--to describe the important role that forests play in maintaining and enhancing the biosphere. He does a good job of explaining carbon sequestration and removal of air and water pollutants. He introduces the idea of forest migration as movement primarily north, but does not focus on global warming as the only cause. There is an excellent example of a positive feedback loop using a dying forest that contributes to a warming climate because the trees no longer capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Woven throughout the book is the unique story of David Milarch. In 1987, while going through alcohol withdrawal, Milarch says he died and went to heaven, where he was given a task to complete by "light beings" that spoke to him. He returned as a man driven with purpose: to clone the "champion" of every tree species in the country. A champion tree is the one tree of each species with the highest combined score of height, crown size, and diameter at breast height. The assumption is that champion trees are genetically superior and cloning them will increase the genetic fitness of future forests. As Milarch says, "This stump is back from the dead, same as I am. We're both playing the same role. It's a resurrection. This is where we ask the world to help heal itself." Jim Robbins hopes for a future world where appropriate forest infrastructure is considered when building any new development and believes that "David Milarch, with the help of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, is well under way on his quixotic campaign to protect the genetics of the old-growth trees and to create supergroves that will perpetuate the genetics around the world."

Most chapters focus on the description of one tree species. The story of the 2,200 year-old Mother of the Forest giant sequoia tree that was stripped of all of its bark in 1854, killing the tree, and then reassembled for viewing by crowds in London and New York City, is presented as a sad moment in our history, but as a result, ecotourism to see the giant sequoias increased and the remaining trees were saved from being chopped down. There is a well-told story of the discovery of a deciduous redwood tree in China that was thought to be extinct. Dr. Ralph Chaney, paleobotanist at UC Berkeley, named it the "dawn redwood" and brought trees back to California in 1948. There are other powerful tree stories--the cloning of a 5000-year-old bristlecone, planting a Wye Oak clone at Mount Vernon on Arbor Day and planting red ash clones for a living memorial to victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon.

The Man Who Planted Trees is a quick, easy read and introduces the reader to many important ecological concepts--ecotechnology, carbon sequestration, cloning, biophilia, forest migration, and phytoremediation. The science is well explained and at a general science level. The only part I found difficult to read was the "Great Unknowns" chapter, which lacked data to support some of the cause-and-effect relationships that Robbins is trying to establish. A single study or anecdotal story is not enough.

This book could easily be used in a college-level course in biology or ecology. I am adding it to my reading list for high school AP biology students. One of the chapters on the redwoods would work well in a high school biology class to introduce the idea of biophilia or ecotechnology, and would stimulate some great discussions.

If you are interested in the human connection to nature, read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv (2008). If you are interested in the history and climbing of the redwoods, try The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston (2008). If you are interested in unique characters and their botanical obsessions, read The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean (2000).

Pamela J. Porter

Edison High School

Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.