Well, I started this book knowing very little in the way of botany, and I feel compelled to point out the process of placing plants into various families is Seriously Bonkers, to use the scientific term. The two biggest families are, in layman’s terms, the roses and the daisies. But the roses also include grape vines, cabbages, oak trees, and rubber trees, while the daisies have carrots, coffee, ash trees, and olive trees for relatives. Apparently it all has to do with DNA, but wow. So not intuitive.
But this fascinating book just sticks with the global tree population, amazingly wide-spread and diverse, including that of New Caledonia, apparently the hotbed for unique species on the planet. But this is not just a list of trees, but looks into their behavior as well, because each tree’s survival plan is fairly well thought out. For example, tropical trees use the animal population to spread their seeds far and wide. They don’t just drop them onto the ground, because there wouldn’t be enough sunlight to allow them to grow, and in additional, the moist warm climate is more conducive to parasites. By spacing the trees far apart, there is less change of a blight extinguishing a certain species of host.
Northern forests with their harsher climates are less prone to blight, but they have other issues, such as wildfires. Some trees, such as lodgepole pines, need the heat of a wildfire to make their cones explode, and cast their seeds out into the now cleared and revitalized burnt landscape. Clever!
And I have to add that the writer is a delight to read. Contrasting the use of plants that reproduce by spores with those who use seeds, he writes, “Spores are like children setting off on a wild adventure with nothing but high spirits and a bag of toffees. . . .Seeds are like commandos, beautifully equipped with iron rations. . . and with a well-worked-out survival strategy to boot” You can guess which type is dominant.