Hidden Histories: Trees –The Secret Properties of 150 Species by Noel Kingsbury. A Review

This book presents a collection of snippets of interesting information about a world-wide selection of trees and presents this in an arrangement of text boxes along with accompanying illustrations.136

As would be expected the practical uses of trees feature regularly – those used for building purposes, for making furniture or tools, for weaving into baskets, those which give us cooking oil, food or can be used as medicine. Then there are those to which people have attached various beliefs or superstitions over the centuries and, of course, those selected simply for their beauty, be it of their flowers, fragrance, growth habit or general appearance. Trees are an important part of our environment and this book brings an interesting selection of information to our attention.

Rather than running on with a list I will take a random example of one entry to illustrate what one might encounter in the book: The Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, is native to central and eastern North America which grows to 80 feet in height. It has small white flowers and the autumn fruit is edible with a bitter-sweet flavour. The North American settlers used it to flavour rum. . If you scratch the rugged, dark-grey bark it emits a pepper-like smell. It self-seeds and spreads with ease in its native habitat and has become an invasive tree in parts of central Europe. The foliage, if eaten, can cause illness in cattle but is rarely fatal. The timber is highly prized, being rich dark-brown in colour, strong, easy to work and does not warp easily and is used for flooring, furniture, musical and scientific instruments as well as for smoking food. This information is all contained in one page with an illustration of the foliage and fruit and a thumbnail shot of the tree, half in foliage and half bare.  So, a lot of information in a small space and presented in a post-it note style.

The format is that more often encountered in pocket identification field guides which means it is not a book for a long read but one into which one might dip occasionally or read in short snatches. Ideal for a short daily bus or train commute or, dare I say, while on the throne!

[Hidden Historie: Trees – The Secret Propeties of 150 Species, Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press, London, 2015,SB, 224 pages, ISBN: 978 1 60469 617 2, £14.99]

Paddy Tobin

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