• Winner of the Ray Allen Billington Prize, Organization for American Historians
  • Winner of the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Award, Forest History Society
  • Winner of the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies
  • Finalist, Spur Award for Nonfiction Contemporary, Western Writers of America


From roots to canopy, a lushly written narrative of the treescape and dreamscape of California.

heyday-coverCalifornia now has more trees than at any time since the late Pleistocene. This green landscape, however, is not the work of nature. It’s the work of history.

In the years after the Gold Rush, American settlers remade the California landscape, harnessing nature to their vision of the good life. Horticulturists, boosters, and civic reformers began to “improve” the “brown” countryside, planting millions of trees to create groves, wooded suburbs, and landscaped cities. They imported the blue-green eucalypts whose tangy fragrance was thought to cure malaria. They built the lucrative “Orange Empire” on the sweet juice and thick skin of the Washington navel, an industrial fruit. They lined their streets with graceful palms to announce that they were not in the Midwest anymore.

To the north the majestic coastal redwoods inspired awe and invited exploitation. A valuable resource in the state, the durable heartwood of these timeless giants became infrastructure, transformed by the saw teeth of American enterprise. By 1900 timber firms owned the entire redwood forest; by 1950 they had clear-cut almost all of the old-growth trees.

In time California’s new landscape proved to be no paradise: the eucalypts in the Berkeley Hills exploded in fire; the orange groves near Riverside froze on cold nights; Los Angeles’s palms harbored rats and dropped heavy fronds on the streets below. Disease, infestation, and development all spelled decline for these nonnative evergreens. In the north, however, a new forest of second-growth redwood took root, nurtured by protective laws and sustainable harvesting. Today there are more California redwoods than there were a century ago.

Rich in character and story, Trees in Paradise is a dazzling narrative that offers an insightful, new perspective on the history of the Golden State and the American West.

PUBLISHER: W. W. Norton & Company (2013). Cloth edition runs 592 pages, including 32 pages of photographs on glossy paper, four maps, appendix, suggested readings, notes, and index. Redesigned paperback edition with new subtitle (minus photo galleries) available from Heyday Books (2017).


Trees in ParadiseI. Redwoods: The Value of Longevity
1. Twilight of the Giants
2. The Perpetual Last Stand

II. Eucalypts: The Taxonomy of Belonging
3. Immigration and Naturalization
4. Natives, Aliens, and (Bio)diversity

III. Citruses: The Industry of Growth
5. Orange Revolution
6. Cultural Costs

IV. Palms: The Ecology of Style
7. Cosmopolitan Fronds
8. Aesthetic Infrastructure


“A breathtaking, dramatic, and insightful history of California as seen through the rise and fall of the state’s most iconic trees. Beautifully written, every page is a revelation, bringing to vivid life the myriad ways in which California’s landscape was transformed by human greed and desire, often with disastrous results. You will never think about a tree or the California Dream in the same way.”
Eric Jay Dolin, author of When America First Met China

“A small group of savvy historians and ecologists—from William Cronon to Daniel Botkin and others—have in recent decades been alerting us to a neglected reality: that much of ‘nature’ as we perceive it is human-arranged. Jared Farmer is an important voice within this corps. Peering at California as landscape and dreamscape, he sees the forest for the trees.”
David Quammen, author of Spillover

“A sweeping and brilliantly observed history of the promise and pitfalls of the California Dream, as seen through the intertwined lives of trees and people.”
Sir Peter Crane, author of Ginkgo and former director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

“This brilliant new work of California history is a magnificent achievement—imaginative, learned, and very important.”
William Deverell, director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

“A stunning example of interpretive narrative, told with complexity, nuance, and wit. Trees in Paradise is a story of optimism and despair, expectation and unexpected consequences, exploitation and preservation, destruction and rebirth. It laces insights from environmental, economic, conservation, labor, and cultural history into a compelling story. The breadth of research is impressive. The writing is fresh and inviting, filled with deep insight and original observations. It deftly weaves mythological tales with botanical descriptions and vivid human stories. Farmer’s ambitious project reinterprets natural and cultural landscapes and changes our understanding of them. The book is illuminating, wry, touching, brilliant.”
—Ray Allen Billington Prize Committee, Organization of American Historians



“Knowledgeable, wise and compelling, Farmer’s book uncovers the subtle and surprising webs connecting the social, cultural and natural worlds of California, and the planet.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“The book offers a thorough look at the natural aspects of this immense, diverse state, and while extremely detailed, Farmer’s engaging prose holds the reader’s attention.”
Publishers Weekly

“More than just a dry botanical study, Farmer’s work blends superlatively nuanced prose with plentiful eye-opening anecdotes to produce a unique history of little-known but significant aspects of the Golden State.”

“Farmer’s work is detailed and nuanced. Trees in Paradise weaves environment and culture into a single narrative. If you’ve ever eaten a California orange, seen a palm on a postcard, or marveled at a redwood, this book is for—and about—you.”
Boom: A Journal of California

“The wealth of research makes this an important addition to the California bookshelf. Farmer shows us how devoted, destructive, foolhardy, ambitious, greedy, enriched and showy Californians can be—not just in relation to our trees but also in general.”
Los Angeles Times

“An important and well-written scholarly book. It is more than a story of conquest. It is about botanical multiculturalism and globalization, the sharing of the regional and the global, the indigenous and the imported, the botanical, the cultural, and the domesticated.”
Huffington Post

“At once an accessible read and a prodigious work of scholarship, Trees in Paradise will serve as the authoritative work on its subject for decades to come.”

Trees in Paradise is a compelling work, from its description of the ghastly treatment of sequoias, ‘simultaneously degraded and sacralized,’ to its evocation of the sweet-scented splendor of orange groves blooming in the dusk of a Pasadena suburb.”
OnEarth Magazine

“A magnificent work that meticulously and entertainingly traces the history of California through its native and nonnative trees. Populated with Gold Rush settlers, horticulturists, civic reformers and exploitative timber barons, it will have you look at our landscape with new eyes.”
—Diesel, A Bookstore (Oakland)

“Farmer demonstrates why he is considered one of the best and most original writers of western history in his third book. Trees in Paradise brilliantly tells the history of the Golden State by intertwining the stories between its people and their purposeful re-creation of their landscapes.”

“Farmer creatively links his exploration of trees to elements of the California Dream. This delightfully written book should enjoy a wide readership, including tree-huggers, botanists, environmentalists, social and cultural scholars, and California history buffs.”
—Richard W. Slatta, Roundup Magazine

“Farmer’s work is consistently entertaining in its prose while offering a full account of stories at the center of California’s engagement with nature. Ultimately the test of a book like this is whether it allows its readers to see the landscapes around them with greater depth, clarity, and curiosity. By that measure, the book is entirely a success.”
—David Hickman, Pacific Historical Review

“This is a splendidly written, consistently interesting, and handsomely produced book. It should appeal to environmental historians, students of California’s social and economic history, and urban history specialists alike. It will challenge readers in the best possible way with its stories of the intertwining of the ‘human’ and the ‘natural,’ and in its argument for understanding the need to conserve and cherish a (chastened) place for the imported as well as the ‘native’ in America’s heritage. For the general public it will also delight aficionados of California and its trees.”
—Ian Tyrrell, Environmental History