Stephanie’s Book Recommendations for Tree Advocates, Spring 2022

Written by Stephanie Coffin, Trees Atlanta 2017 Tree Champion 


Tree folks,

I strongly urge folks who are working with trees to read these new books about trees and soil as you have time and inclination. Let me know if you want to talk about any of the books.

The book that I have just finished is probably the most pressing, The Treeline: The Last  Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, by Ben Rawlence (St. Martins Press 2022).

Rawlence focuses on the boreal forest where the trees grow in a big circle around the Arctic, specifically focusing on six trees that predominate. He discusses the moving treeline and what this means, noting that current mapping science is weak. The treeline, unlike a static line, is in contant motion, and it’s moving rapidly and not with minor shifts over huge periods of time as was in the past. As he focuses on each tree, he discusses its status comparing them to the underlying generalization that trees now have three choices: die, move, or adapt.

He is not a scientist, but has so artfully included discussions of two more technical books I’ve also included below: Mother Tree and Entangled Lives. His discussion is wide ranging including breathtaking descriptions of his journeys into native human populations and takes issue with Sheldrake’s generalizations about mycorrhizal fungus.  Beside the information about how the trees and people are surviving or not in the Arctic, the book is his summation of the impact of climate change — it is being felt the hardest at the polar extremes.


The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eight Continents in the Trees Above Us, by Meg Lowman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2021)

Meg Lowman looks up and then figures out a way to climb up. She notes that tree research has primarily focused on the bottom third of trees. She aims to change that. If you have read her previous work on canopy research in Australia, Peru, Belize, and Panama, you will love this book spanning her life.  It is an autobiography, but also describes her amazing research methods and results.

Starting out as a child insect collector and identifier of wild flowers in northern New York, she first climbs solo on saddle ropes to get up in the trees. Building on her simple saddle, she advances to floating platforms and canopy bridges. Her canopy research  – primarily measuring leaves and counting insects – leads to new science. The book follows her tree-focused, worldwide careers in academics, institutions, public speaking, and advocacy. Discussions of major tree issues flow through her narrative. She includes mini-sections of eleven trees around the world. The book is written in a personal narrative, and all you need is an interest and/or love of trees to enjoy this book.


Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (Alfred A. Knopf  2021)

Unlike Lowman, who focuses up into the canopy, Suzanne Simard looks down into the soil to satisfy the questions she has about trees. Her life and research in the rainforests of British Columbia centers on alder, birch, poplar and Douglas fir.  She is curious about mycorrhizal fungi and their interaction with trees. She sets up experiments to prove how they relate underground through exchanges of water and nutrients.

This is a personal narrative of a woman scientist. At the time Simard began her research, the relationship of mycorrhizal fungi to trees was fairly new. Her research findings challenged both the academic world, as well as the forest service and logging companies using clear cut methods. One doesn’t need to be a chemist to follow her research designs and scientific results. The implications of her research are enormous for the challenges that the world faces today.


Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, by Merlin Sheldrake (Random House 2021)

This is an exciting book which explores fungal interaction with trees. Fungi are considered a keystone organism  in agriculture and arboriculture, but even today so much is unknown. Sheldrake claims that today, “more than ninety percent of all plant species depends on mycorrhizal fungi.” The history of other cultures and species that have successfully harnessed fungi is breathtaking.  His warning about soil neglect and destruction through chemical fertilizers, drought, and ignorance is something we can all consider seriously.

Sheldrake gives us a view of what lives in the soil below us suggesting complexity, chaos, and mutualism, as well as, competition. This book may be a challenge to the layperson. It is organized in eight chapters, plus its lengthy appendices take up the last third of the book. Take it slow, chapter by chapter. It presents a dazzling overview of what is known, and what we don’t know.


The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, by Douglas W. Tallamy (Timber Press 2021)

Quite simply, this small book is a developed argument about why you should grow and preserve oaks. It is  organized in chapters by months. Tallamy starts discussing oaks in September. Each chapter is full of information about oaks and why they are the most important genus, has the most species of any tree in the world, is one of the longest living trees, supports more life and varieties of insects than any other tree species, supports decomposers better than any other tree, and more. Interwoven are facts about insects – galls and caterpillars and their relationship to supporting the bird life.

This book is a passioned scientific overview of the benefits of oaks in our cities and rural areas. He challenges all the common reasons that are given why oaks should not be planted. Grow your own! A helpful appendix with suitable oaks by size (large, intermediate, and small) for every region in the United States is included.  Easy to read.


Stephanie reminds us that these books can be found at your local library in print, ebook, and/or audio.


Posted on: May 4, 2022