Tree: A Life Story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady (2004)

TreeCanadian scientist/CBC icon David Suzuki teams up with science writer Wayne Grady to present a lovely little book that traces the life history of the mighty Douglas-fir tree, from the Pacific Northwest fire that set the ground for its seed to take root through to its death, hundreds of years later, when the weakened snag gives way to a windstorm. “No one hears it fall.” (p. 175) Black and white illustrations by renowned artist Robert Bateman give the reader an opportunity to linger on the pages. I can hear Suzuki’s gentle voice as I read and learn, challenging me with new ideas. I’m startled by the notion of trees engaging in “trade” with fungi, exchanging trace elements for sugar. I gain an understanding of the concept of multicellular organisms, that different tree cells have different tasks, efficiently allowing them to become experts in different areas in order to benefit the whole, and thus the cell. Yup, physiologically speaking, a tree (and your body, for that matter!) is a commune. Whoa! Following his trademark holistic approach, Suzuki presents a biology of the Douglas-fir along with a summary of historical events going on in the world as our subject grows from seedling to towering tree. We also learn a bit of the history of science as it applies to botany, and how our tree contributes to the natural world (and its technical uses for humans). Think of it as The Nature of Things on paper. It’s all delivered in an accessible and entertaining writing style that makes you laugh and read lines over again: for example, we learn that truffle-seeking sows are actually attracted by androsterone in the fungi, meaning the sows “probably think they are in for more than a good meal” (p.53). It’s slower reading that I expected as a result, but that’s a good thing. I wish Bateman had contributed more, though. I kept wanting to see visualizations of ideas represented. And when the images do appear, they are more artistic than illustrative. Complete with a selected bibliography of references, and an excellent, detailed index.
More discussion and reviews of this book:


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