- 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.
California 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. PUBLICATION DATE: October 28, 2013.
Hardcover: 592 pages, including 32 pages of photographs on glossy paper, four maps, appendix, suggested readings, notes, and index.
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
“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. It is an intimate look at the ‘human-arboreal bond.’ But, fundamentally, this book is a history of California.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Although the book is in line with the fad for single-lens histories (tulips, cod, salt), its capacity for mapping the emotional terrain trees occupy is more akin to The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant, which won a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2005. Farmer moves forward with surprising velocity while pausing to charm with sentences such as: ‘The [eucalyptus tree's] operculums also look like buttons—the knobby kind you might find on a knit cardigan in a vintage shop.'”
—Miranda Purves, Flare
“A wonderfully engaging social history of trees in California—from towering sequoias and redwoods to eucalyptus, tangy citruses and palms. 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
- My Facebook page for Trees in Paradise
- My Q&A with KCET
- My interview with High Country News
- My radio interviews: KQED, KNEW, KBOO, Northeast Public Radio, Valley Public Radio, Utah Public Radio, BYU Radio
- My lecture at the Huntington Library
- My photo essay on the historic treescape of Greater Los Angeles
- My illustrated article on El Palo Alto, the emblematic redwood tree of Palo Alto and Stanford University
- My illustrated article on the “hangman’s tree” in California history, legend, and landscape
- My very short history of eucalyptus in California
- My op-ed on eucalyptus: original version and abbreviated version
- My blog posts on trees