New Zealand is a country of trees. Go for a walk in your neighbourhood and chances are you’ll see more trees than houses. They outnumber us, despite our best attempts. These trees are growing, reproducing and supporting entire ecosystems of smaller beings every moment of everyday, stoic and graceful. These are good enough reasons to learn a little more about them. Once you’ve reached this stage then, you’ll need a reference book, and you’re in luck because the most comprehensive book ever dedicated to New Zealand’s native trees has recently been published.
The sleeve notes of New Zealand’s Native Trees state that this is “a book of the kind that is published only once in a generation…” and this may well be because it took half a generation to write it and would take another half to read it from cover to cover.
It is likely though that this is not how this book is best approached. You could, as I did, turn directly to the pages and photographs devoted to the pin-up flora – pohutukawa, rata, kauri, ponga, nikau – and immerse yourself in the beautiful details: botanical features, distribution, habitat and key relationships with other plants and animals. Or you could, after being struck by appreciation of the trunk or branch structure of a particular tree you’d seen en situ, return to your lounge and augment your appreciation with information. One thing is certain, you won’t be carrying the book around with you: it weighs four kilograms and takes up as much space as a small child’s torso.
For as the sleeve notes also state, this book “describes and generously illustrates more than 320 species, subspecies and varieties…of conifers, tree ferns and flowering trees.” Generous is the word.
Readers might think fondly and sympathetically, as they thumb through nearly six hundred pages of accessible text and superb photographs, of the principal authors, John Dawson and Rob Lucas, who concede in their acknowledgements that they had become strangers to their wives during the seven years of the books gestation.
No doubt, New Zealand’s Native Trees is a labour of love.
It is clear that Dawson and Lucas and the many contributors love trees, and have laboured long to present that love (perhaps to the extent that they would love not to see another tree again.)
And like the lovely trees that it depicts, this book is an act of generosity. For whilst knowing doesn’t necessarily translate to appreciation, a book that inspires you to observe more closely and then complements your observation is a great thing.
Reviewed by Aaron Blaker
New Zealand’s Native Trees
by John Dawson and Rob Lucas
Published by Craig Potton