“Urban Forests” by Jill Jonnes

The subtitle of this book is “a natural history of trees and people in the American cityscape”, but it is really a social history, not a natural history.  Much of the book concerns the question of how the ornamental trees planted in American cities (like ginkoes, dawn redwoods, and flowering cherries) came to be discovered, imported, and popularized.  Some chapters concern the central institutions of American tree culture (arboreta, Arbor Day, tree-care companies), the great American tree disasters (American elm and chestnut; ash borers and Asian longhorned beetles), or individual trees of note.  Of many fascinating stories, I was particularly taken with the first attempt to bring Japanese flowering cherries to Washington, DC: in one of the first acts of quarantine taken by the USDA, all two thousand trees were destroyed because of the insects and fungi they carried.  (A second shipment of trees, raised specifically to prevent infestations, was substituted a couple years later.)  Overall a pleasant and informative book.

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