Get to Know Your Trees with National Audubon Society Trees of North America

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Whether you have your own wooded acre or a favorite park shade tree, there’s a new book out that’s sure to inspire admiration of nature’s trunked and leafy wonders, “National Audubon Society Trees of North America,” available via Amazon.

From the scaly-coned Pacific Silver Fir to the spiny-barked Devil’s Walking Stick, readers will discover over 540 unique native species and almost 2,500 color photos.

A close up vertical image of the cover of National Audubon Trees of North America book cover. To the bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

If you read our review of the “National Audubon Society Birds of North America,” you know you’re in for a treat with the scope and quality of an Audubon book.

In this article, we take a deep dive into the Society’s most authoritative work to date on the trees of North America.

About the Society

Since 1905, the National Audubon Society has operated as a nonprofit mainly concerned with the protection of birds.

A close up horizontal image of a path through western hemlock trees (Tsuga heterphylla).
Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterphylla). Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington.

Their expansive and influential conservation efforts are aimed at restoring and preserving habitats and the diverse wildlife that occupy them, advocating the use of native plants, and promoting public policies that bring people and nature into harmony.

Avenues of outreach include local chapters, nature centers, advocacy programs, books, and apps. To date, there are over 600,000 Society members.

“National Audubon Society Trees of North America” is the collective work of a host of scientists and photographers who classify, photograph, and describe every species in detail, as well as the designers who compile the material and present it in a user-friendly, eye-appealing format.

This new book is a comprehensive resource that updates and combines content from “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region” (1980) and “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Western Region” (1980).

First Impressions

There’s been a pocket guide to trees of the eastern United States in my house for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was a scout leader, and we were fortunate to have a ready supply of nature books.

A close up horizontal image of an Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) tree pictured on a blue sky background.
Osage-orange, (Maclura pomifera). Photo credit: Arlington National Cemetery.

What I’d never had was one listing all the native North American species, so I couldn’t wait to open the new Audubon guide.

As is my habit, I opened randomly, and lo and behold, there was the Osage-orange. I’d known it as “monkey orange” since I was a child. I devoured the description, discovering that it’s native to Texas, and couldn’t wait to read more.

Cover to Cover

This latest work in the Audubon collection is “flexibound,” with a cover that is heavier than a paperback, but bendable, rather than firm like a hardback. Some vendors categorize it as a hardback.

The dimensions are 7.31 by 1.03 by 9.46 inches, and there are 592 pages filled with glossy photos and reader-friendly text.

With a weight of just over two and a half pounds, it is heavier than your average field guide, but I think it can be toted as well as used as a desk reference.

Species are arranged by taxonomy, or the order in which they appeared on earth. The first species you’ll encounter are members of the order Pinales, or conifers, and the final is Apiales, or flowering types.

Taxonomy is a fluid biological science of classification that evolves as more is learned. The listings in this volume are current as of the time of publication.

A handy color coding of the page edges aids in quick reference by taxonomic order.

An Expansive Line Up

In the table of contents, we find listings for “Introduction,” “Identification,” “Conservation,” and “Tree Biology Topics.” They’re quite informative must-reads, as we’ll see shortly.

These are followed by taxonomic orders and the families they contain.

For example, under “Lamiales,” we find the Olive, Acanthus, Trumpet Creeper, Mint, and Figwort families.

The Introduction opens with a description of the Society and an invitation to readers to visit the website. Here you can enter your zip code to find North American plants that benefit the wildlife that live in your locale.

A close up horizontal image of a huge live oak (Quercus virginiana) tree with large sprawling roots.
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Photo credit: A. Stewart

It goes on to provide an overview of trees in general, including structure, function in the environment, aesthetic value, and role in the food and manufacturing industries.

Did you know that photosynthesis sometimes takes place in bark?

Or that approximately half of our planet’s oxygen supply comes from trees?

A section called Identification follows. Here readers learn how leaves, bark, fruits, flowers, and roots all help to define a species.

The Conservation section introduces readers to seven conservation status designations created by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. They range from “Least Concern” to “Extinct.”

And it is stressed that “…non-native landscapes do not support functional ecosystems that support our native wildlife (p. 14).”

In Tree Biology Topics the Society defines a tree as:

“A woody perennial plant, typically having a single usually elongated main stem, growing to considerable height, generally with few or no branches on its lower part (p. 15).”

Informative write-ups on the challenges of classifying trees, and natural processes of forest regeneration are followed by topics including evolutionary progression, vegetative communities, naturalized versus invasive species, the “wood-wide-web,” and the effect of threats such as climate change.

With this ample background, readers are well-equipped to delve into the detailed species descriptions that come next and make up the bulk of the book.

Let’s take a look!

Detailed Entries

For each species, there is a one-page entry that includes text and at least two color photos.

A close up of the dark purple flowers of the clammy locust tree (Robinia viscosa) pictured on a soft focus green background.
Clammy Locust (Robinia viscosa). Photo by Robert Vid.

It begins with species highlights and continues with the following sections:

  • Alternate Name (where applicable)
  • Description
  • Flowers (where applicable)
  • Fruit (where applicable)
  • Caution (where applicable)
  • Habitat
  • Range
  • Uses
  • Similar Species
  • Conservation Status

In addition, a small range map indicates where there are dense and light populations of a species, as well as where it has naturalized.

The all-inclusive “National Audubon Society Trees of North America” winds down with a useful section called “Tree Families.” It is an extension of the introductory sections that summarizes groups of related species by taxonomic order and common name. For example, “Platanaceae – Sycamore.”

I recommend reading all supplemental material prior to using the species entries portion of the book, as they foster a greater appreciation and understanding of trees in general.

And finally, there is a glossary of genre-specific words, such as “keel,” a ridge on a fruit or seed, and “scurfy,” or having small scales.

An index with cross-referenced common and Latin names, and photo credits conclude this extensive reference work.

A Comprehensive Compendium

Identifying native trees is important for home gardeners, landscapers, and anyone who seeks to distinguish species that benefit local wildlife and contribute to habitat from those that don’t.

A close up horizontal image of Kousa Dogwood with bright red berries growing wild pictured in light filtered sunshine.
Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa). Photo by David J. Stang.

Years ago, an arborist friend of mine visited my home one autumn and recommended I remove a yellow-leafed maple. It was so pretty I kept it.

Little did I know, it was a Norway maple, a non-native and invasive water hog that would suck the ground dry in a drought, leaving my perennials to wilt and wither. And that’s when its roots weren’t already strangling everything in its path.

National Audubon Society Trees of North America

With “National Audubon Society Trees of North America,” available on Amazon, you’ll have information about a wealth of native species at your fingertips to inspire your gardening, guide you on nature walks, and increase your knowledge of one of nature’s essential plants.

If you enjoyed reading about this exciting new guide to native trees, you may want to read more book reviews, including:

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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