Author(s): Jeff Gillman
Trees have been essential to the success of human beings, providing food, shelter, warmth, transportation, and products (consider the paper you are holding). Trees are also necessary for a healthy atmosphere, literally connecting the earth with the sky. Once in wild abundance-the entire eastern North America was a gigantic forest-they have receded as we have clearcut the landscape in favor of building cities and farms, using up and abusing our forests in the process. Over the centuries, we have trained food trees, such as peach and apple trees, to produce more and better fruit at the expense of their lives. As Jeff Gillman, a specialist in the production and care of trees, explains in his major new work, How Trees Die: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Forests, the death of a tree is as important to understanding our environment as how it lives. While not as readily apparent as other forms of domestication, our ancient and intimate relationship with trees has caused their lives to be inseparably entwined with ours.
The environment we have created-what we put into the air and into the water, and how we change the land through farming, construction, irrigation, and highways-affects the world's entire population of trees, while the lives of the trees under our direct care in farms, orchards, or along a city boulevard depend almost entirely on our actions. Taking the reader on a fascinating journey through time and place, the author explains how we kill trees, often for profit, but also unintentionally with kindness through overwatering or overmulching, and sometimes simply by our movements around the globe, carrying foreign insects or disease. No matter how a tree's life ends, though, understanding the reason is essential to understanding the future of our environment.
JEFF GILLMAN is associate professor of horticultural science at the University of Minnesota. He is author of The Truth About Organic Gardening.