Truly seeing trees

Photo Courtesy of Timber Press

This time of year blog writing is all about color. Trees, bronzed and burnished by the sun, are semi-permanent fixtures of this autumnal show, but how often do you really look at trees other times of the year?

When trees are showcased in the media, it’s their ability to resuscitate our damaged atmosphere most often highlighted. I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, and I remember ecology, a word which has evolved into other terms like sustainability or “being green.” For our own breath of life, trees are our most important resource, but humans cut down old-growth forests in record numbers throughout the world unabated for a time. Over my lifetime, I’ve noticed much of the clear cutting has slowed, and there is a renewed respect for trees on much of the planet. In the last four decades we’ve developed an appreciation for how trees help us breathe, but we’ve forgotten how cool they are–up close and personal.

I discovered this when I went to college at the University of Oklahoma and stumbled into a Botany 101 class. I needed a biological science to fill my transcript, and it was an open class. My professor turned out to be the head of the department, and his teaching inspired me to take every botany class OU offered while I pursued a journalism degree. Lucky for me, journalism students were encouraged to branch out into the humanities and sciences. At the time, botany seemed a bit random, but as with all seeds, the fruit became visible only with time.

I still love the microscopic structure of plants.

So, when I was at the Garden Writers Symposium in Indianapolis last fall, and I passed the Timber Press booth, I’m not kidding when I say I was awestruck by Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees, by Nancy Ross Hugo, and lovingly photographed by Robert Llewellyn. The cover photo of the bright, baby leaves of Ginko biloba, shaped like tiny Chinese fans, made me catch my breath. Their fan shape always makes me think of one of my favorite books, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Plus, the photo transported me back to all of those botany drawings I sketched for class so many years ago. All of these thoughts and feelings in an instant from one photograph.

That’s what a great book will do.

Looking at the depth of information and photography for ten, classic trees of North America, helped me fall in love with old favorites along with those I don’t often see unless I venture out of state. On the prairie, we love trees, but we don’t have many so we love the ones we have and admire those back east.

Juinperus virginiana, the dreaded Eastern redcedar with its distinctive blue cones

I was amused by page 140, a showcase of Juniperus virginiana, the Eastern redcedar, a tree I loathe for taking over much of Oklahoma by force. I realize this tree isn’t invasive in other states, but here, it truly is a menace. Oh well . . . I understand why it is profiled, and since it is so common, it is often overlooked by others. I do like the blue berries which are actually fleshy cones. I learned that fleshy cone part from the book.

Fagus grandifolia, the American beech, on the other hand is so beautiful closeup, I want to frame its unfurling leaves. The same for Acer rubrum, the red maple which has fairy-parasol blooms just like that of the Japanese maples I grow.

The photographic introduction of each tree shows it standing stately in a field, stretching its limbs to sun and sky. Subsequent pages take your closer and closer to the tree until you’re looking at its fruit in true macro fashion. Simply lovely. In the video below, Llewellyn explains how he captured these images something I found fascinating.

The words of the text are also beautifully written, and Hugo makes the experience of each tree personal. It’s not so scientific to lose the reader, and yet, the science is all there like vegetables hidden in a classic, spaghetti sauce.

If you love books and nature, this is one to own for reference and to ponder during the long winter months. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to plant a tree in your yard, your neighborhood, or at your child’s school or at church. Trees should not just be planted because of what they do for us, but simply, because of what they are.

In accordance with FTC disclosure rules, I want everyone reading to know, I received this book for review free from Timber Press, but I would have bought it anyway. If I haven’t convinced you how beautiful it is, then please watch watch Hugo and Llewellyn’s video below showing how they created the words and images. Thank you.


  1. For me, it’s all about winter interest. If I was living my dream life in Maui that wouldn’t really matter 🙂 but this high up in the mountains a white winter landscape is a dominant feature. So, I try to find trees with bright red and yellow bark, or interesting shapes to brighten up a flat winter landscape. Looks like a great book.

  2. Les says:

    My mother called me Friday asking for my Christmas wish-list. I think a book just got added to it.

  3. Debbie says:

    I am GETTING this one! Trees ARE my imaginary “quiet space”. Actually, they were my real quiet space as a little girl. The photo of the acorn on the branch took my breath away. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Greggo says:

    Definitely a book I will look into. I was an original tree hugger, literally. When I first visited the arboretum in Stillwater, I proceeded to wrap my arms around a huge low land native pecan. wow. didn’t even reach half way around. Large trees are impressive and I’m sure the book will reinforce that.

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I have seen this book reviewed by others. Everyone likes it. I can’t wait to get a copy. Thanks for putting the video on your blog for us too. The photos are exactly how I like to look at things. Up close and personal.

  6. This is the second review of Seeing Trees I’ve read in as many weeks. I loved the video, I hadn’t seen that before. I really am now convinced that I need to pick up a copy of this beautiful book for myself! Who doesn’t love trees?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      How interesting. I’d love to read someone else’s review. I always like to see what another person gets out of a particular book. You won’t regret buying the book. I promise.

  7. Wonderful book. Gardeners must learn from the people who truly get down and get dirty.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      The way I look at it, we can certainly all learn from each other. Fortunate are all who garden.

  8. I am liking the look of that book and even though the shelves groan with horticultural books, this one might have to oust another.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Catharine, I think you would love this book. I read so many I rarely love them, but this one? Aaaah.

  9. Layanee says:

    Oh, I have the poster hanging here right on the wall. Must get a copy based on your beautifully written review.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Oh, Layanee, I bet that poster is a beauty. The book is lovely, something to ponder.

  10. Gorgeous. This is on my WANT list for Christmas! Thanks for sharing. c:

    1. Dee Nash says:

      It is such a lovely book with fantastic pictures.

  11. commonweeder says:

    This is a beautiful and useful book. The photographs are absolutely fabulous. I am looking at trees in a whole new way ever since I read this book.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Pat, you are so right. It is both useful and lovely to behold.

  12. Gail says:

    It’s a beautiful book and you’ve written a delightful review. I have it already and everyone who picks it up to take a look is mesmerized by both the prose and photographs. I try to add at least one tree to the garden each year. xoxogail

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Gail. I loved it from the first moment I saw it.

  13. Leslie says:

    I wish I had space to plant more trees…but that won’t stop me from checking into this book…you make it sound so intriguing.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Leslie, I wish you did too. Maybe your church could plant a new one every year?

  14. This is great dear Dee. I am a bonafide tree-hugger and I give this review (and this book) a big thumbs up.

    Loved the video. Love the photos. I really want people to plant trees for their newborn grands or babies…and I dream of schools planting little orchards for the children.

    Love to you,


    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Sharon. I agree. I wish more schools had gardens for the little ones. They could learn so much from them. I can see espaliered apple and pear trees against the walls of the school and such. What fun planning one would be. Now, you’ve got me dreaming again. Love to you too.

  15. Dee, I will definitely be adding this book to my wish list. Also as a child of the 60s I have been in love with ecology and trees. I treasure every one we have and mourn their loss when it occurs. I love to learn more about trees so I will be buying this book soon. Thx for reference and review!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Donna, I think one benefit of the ecology movement was it got us thinking about our environment as something we should care for. We are caretakers for the next generation of people, our children and grandchildren.

Comments are closed.