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The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 17, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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An Interview with the Author
Q: How did you meet David Milarch, who is featured in this book?
A: In 2001 I wrote a story for the New York Times on Milarch’s plan to make copies, or clones, of some of the biggest trees in the country – the champions. By clones I mean he would take cuttings and root them, the way trees have been copied for centuries. That way, he reasoned, if one of the champions should die, its genetics would live on, since there would be hundreds of genetically identical copies planted in what he called living archival libraries. Not much is known about tree genetics, and so this was a way of preserving champion tree DNA until it could be studied. It was an intriguing idea.

Then, after the story came out, I met Milarch in person and he told me the idea to clone these big trees came to him after he had a Near Death Experience – that is, he had died and returned to his body. I was shocked – I had never heard of such a thing. He told me that he was deeply inspired to clone the trees by spirit beings he met during and after his experience.

I didn’t know what to think of his story, but all of the scientists I spoke with about his plan to clone trees thought it was spot on, a smart idea.

Q: Why did you feel his was an important story to tell?
A: Scientists can’t say that trees are in trouble – there isn’t enough data. But privately they think that many trees and forests are in trouble and things will get worse as the climate warms, perhaps much worse. But Milarch can say trees are in trouble from his unique perspective. So his tale became an important and intriguing way to tell this story. And it’s all backed up with interviews with scientists.

Q. What happened to your own forest?
A few years after I met Milarch the entire 15 acre forest of trees around my house in Montana started dying, and some of the trees were 300 and 400 years old. And they kept dying until they nearly all disappeared, not only on my property, but across swaths of Montana, and across much of the Rocky Mountain West. And it’s far worse in Canada. The beetles that kill trees are thriving because it’s getting much warmer.

The ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on the planet, are also dying. If the oldest, toughest trees on the planet, living on mountain tops in the West, are dying, I thought, no tree is safe. What happens in 10 or 20 or 30 years if it gets a few degrees warmer? Yikes!

It may happen even sooner. Look what’s happening to the weather this year – temperatures are warmer all over the US, and meteorologists say they haven’t seen anything like it.

Telling Milarch’s tale and the story of dying trees became even more urgent after I saw the forest die-off in the West, and in my own backyard.

Q. What is Milarch’s plan for these giants he is cloning?
A. He hopes someday that people will plant one clone of these champions in the midst of hundreds of other regular trees as a way of beefing up the genetics of forests.

Q Why are trees important?
Milarch has often said that trees are more important than we know. And as I talked to scientists and read papers they confirmed that notion: we have underestimated the trees, vastly. They are a kind of eco-technology that sustains our lives here on the planet and that humans can’t duplicate. There is a whole range of ecosystem services provided by trees and forests that many people don’t know about. They filter our water and can clean up the nastiest kinds of toxic wastes. They soak up greenhouse gasses to mitigate climate change, protect us from harsh UV rays, and are a heat shield and natural air-conditioner for cities and suburbs. David Milarch talks about them as the filters of the planet. As we all know, when you take the filter out of your aquarium, the fish die.

Q: What can we do?
As Milarch says, trace back almost every environmental problem far enough and the solution is to plant trees. Trees are hope. But you can’t plant them just anywhere. It’s about strategically planting trees -- the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. The big question we need to figure out is what is the right tree to plant and where.

A Look Inside The Man Who Planted Trees

Climbing a tree Climbing a tree David standing next to a tree Treetops


“This is a story of miracles and obsession and love and survival. Told with Jim Robbins’s signature clarity and eye for telling detail, The Man Who Planted Trees is also the most hopeful book I’ve read in years. I kept thinking of the end of Saint Francis’s wonderful prayer, ‘And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.’ ”—Alexandra Fuller, author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
“Absorbing, eloquent, and loving . . . While [Jim] Robbins’s tone is urgent, it doesn’t compromise his crystal-clear science. . . . Even the smallest details here are fascinating.”—Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review

“The great poet W. S. Merwin once wrote, ‘On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.’ It’s good to see, in this lovely volume, that some folks are getting a head start!”—Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Inspiring . . . Robbins lucidly summarizes the importance and value of trees to planet Earth and all humanity.”The Ecologist
“ ‘Imagine a world without trees,’ writes journalist Jim Robbins. It’s nearly impossible after reading The Man Who Planted Trees, in which Robbins weaves science and spirituality as he explores the bounty these plants offer the planet.”Audubon

“Scientists can be confined by their own thinking—they know what they know. It’s amazing for one layman to come up with the idea of saving champion trees as a meaningful way to address the issues of biodiversity and climate change. This could be a grassroots solution to a global problem. A few million people selecting and planting the right trees for the right places could really make a difference.”—Ramakrishna Nemani, earth scientist
“When a veteran science reporter meets an unlikely mystic to whom otherworldly spirits have given a mission—to save the DNA of the world’s champion trees—you know you’re in for a good story. Jim Robbins takes us along on a journey full of discovery, passion, and urgency and shows how one man’s near-death experience may help the world’s forests survive theirs.”—Dayton Duncan, author of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
“This provocative and stimulating look at an emerging aspect of environmental study should serve as a clarion call to those concerned with the fate of the world’s forests as well as of the stately shade trees in their own backyards.”Booklist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jim Robbins; First Edition edition (April 17, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781400069064
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069064
  • ASIN: 1400069068
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Glenda Boozer VINE VOICE on March 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book promises to mean as much to me as Masanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution. The Man who planted trees doesn't have all the answers, but it starts to ask some of the questions.

Since it's a story for human beings to read, it is about human beings as well as trees, particularly about David Milarch, as unlikely a hero to save the planet as you're likely to find, except that he grew up working in the family tree nursery. Don't take his story at face value, but take it as you find it.

Of course, we can't have a story about a man who planted trees without talking about trees. Each one of these chapters is named for a tree, and the love of trees permeates every page. As a person who has always loved trees and whose grandfather and father have always planted trees, I was moved to tears many times in reading this small volume. Though some of the mystical ideas are just not going to fit into my current world view, I don't mind, as long as we get some trees planted!

Like me, you may be moved to tears, but like me, I hope that you are also moved to take action. Even if it's not the right time of year, even if the conditions aren't ideal, even if you can think of any number of other reasons not to, plant a tree! Plant a grapefruit seed in a paper cup full of dirt, if that's all you can do today. More plantings will follow.

I was going to suggest passing this book along after you've read it, but I won't be able to. I expect to find ideas, resources and inspiration in this book for a very long time to come.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
... I used to read Jean Giono's Man Who Planted Trees to my children, in French, in France, for bedtime. It was a wonderful, fully illustrated edition, and told the story of one shepherd, in the French Alps, who changed the devastated landscape of a remote French valley, which was an ecological nightmare, into a virtual "Garden of Eden," all by himself, because he planted thousands and thousands of trees. The tale demonstrated initiative, love and care for the natural world, how one person "can make a difference," and a slew of other feel-good ideas, all of which you hope to imbue your children with. As for the Garden of Eden at the end, well, it was a bit of a fairy tale, no harm there. Though I adamantly refuse to wear clothes emblazoned with corporate logos, if I saw a tee-shirt labeled "tree-hugger," I'd be more than happy to don it, because trees and forests resonate deep with my genes. And so, when this book, with the same title, popped up on my Vine listing, I had to punch the "Yes" button. Properly, Jim Robbins commences his book with a brief discussion of Giono's tale.

Then Robbins quickly introduces his "French shepherd," David Milarch, a shade tree nurseryman from Copemish, Michigan, near Traverse City. The introduction includes describing all the "warts," and there are a few, including alcoholism, and gang rumbles as a youth. Milarch also claims salvation, and a life-changing experience when his spirit left his body in what is referred to as a "near-death" experience. There are also substantial dollops of mysticism, with trees communicating in ways much stronger than the apparently relatively weak way they resonate with me.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jim Robbins convinces me that trees are one of nature's most valuable resources. He is a science writer for the New York Times. He uses his journalism background to explain how important and fascinating trees are. He explains in detail how the presence of trees can help preserve the beauty of the earth's environment. He also discusses how the absence of trees can be detrimental to the environment. I learned that the leaves on trees can take in air pollutants. I also learned that trees can absorb toxims found in rivers. The absence of trees can have the opposite on our rivers and the air we all breathe. The absence of trees raising the releasing carbon in the environment. This raises the temperature of the earth. I did not know any of these things. Robbins writing style is very detailed. He opens my eyes to the impact that trees have on the environment.

I learned that the bristlecone tree is the oldest tree. The existence of a bristle cone trees goes back 5000 years. I also learned that willow trees contain salicylic acid. This can be developed into medicine to treat ulcers, muscle pain and acne. Robbins touches on the fact that the presence of trees can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. This is all facinating bits of information. I wish he spent more time on this, but he does raise my interest in learning about these health issues.

This book is also partly a biography. It is about a man named David Milarch. He has dedicated his life to cloning and planting trees after having a near death experience. Champion trees are trees that are very tall and old. It is interesting reading about how different trees are cloned. Redwood trees are cloned by taking a sample of the needles on the top of the trees.
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