The Sibley Guide to Trees Book Review

If you love trees, then you'll want to add the Sibley Guide to Trees to your library.


The Sibley Guide to Trees

I've always been fascinated by trees. They are, as David Sibley rightly points out, the largest, heaviest and oldest living things on earth. And, as a furniture maker, I especially appreciate the wonderful array of wood that we get from trees. A world without trees would be somewhat unimaginable. Apart from the houses that we live in and the furniture that adorns our homes, trees give us food, paper products, building materials, medicines and chemicals, not to mention beauty, shade, oxygen, clean air and water.
The first thing to note is that this is more of a reference book than a field guide. For a field guide I feel you're better off using a local or regional guide, and something that's a little easier to carry around than Sibley's hefty 427 page book.
There are two parts to this book. The first 30 pages provides a general introduction to trees - what makes a tree not a shrub, how they are classified (arranged into families, genus and species), their distribution, and how to indentify them (by leaves, flowers, fruit, twigs, buds, and bark). There are copious coloured illustrations, and these are indeed wonderful. I found this introduction to be very well written - it's not too long that you'll feel benumbed, yet not so short that you don't get a good sense of what the tree world is all about. Someone who is new to tree watching will benefit most from this introduction. Unfortunately, for those readers whose interest will be whetted, the author doesn't provide any additional references (books, web sites).
The second part of the book is devoted to some "668 native and commonly cultivated trees found in the temperate areas of North America north of Mexico." The 'commonly cultivated trees' consist of exotic (imported) trees that have escaped (thanks to birds and wind) and are growing wild.

Sibley divides the trees into their respective Families (52 of them), such as the Pines, Laurels, Walnuts and Beeches. Within each Family there may be several 'groups'; for example, the Pines are further divided into ten groups, including the White Pine Group, Foxtail Pine Group, Pinyon Group, and Yellow Pine Group. Individual trees are identified by Common name, Genus and Species, and is Eastern White Pine, Pinus, strobus. Sibley also provides alternative names that the trees may be know by in specific regions of the country. So, somewhere in North America the Eastern White Pine is also known as Whymouth Pine or Pumpkin Pine (unfortunately Sibley doesn't tell us where these names are used).
A short bit of text (30 to 50 words) accompanies each tree, along with coloured illustrations of the leaves, fruit and bark, and the tree's profile. There is also a small map that gives a very general idea of areas in which the tree occurs. I find the real value here in the illustrations, particularly as I do virtually all of my tree watching in late spring to late fall months, with pockets stuffed with leaves, flowers, pods and seeds. Once home, it's then out with the reference books.
My main complaint with this book has to do with legibility. I find the illustration labels barely decipherable - the font used is very thin and small. Perhaps this has been done to help keep the book to a manageable size. I also found the images of the bark (about 3/4" square) much too small. Interspersed through the book are sidebars that provide interesting information about specific trees. Again, the font used for the text is quite small, and worse, shown on a pale yellow background, making it, for me, that much more difficult to read.
Still, minor complaints aside, if you love trees, then you'll want to add the new Sibley Guide to Trees to your library.



  • Introduction - Getting Started
  • What is a Tree
  • Taxonomy
  • Size
  • Maps
  • Habitat
  • Tree Conservation
  • Tree Identification
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Fruit
  • Twigs
  • Buds
  • Bark
  • Families
  • Species Checklist
  • Species Index
PUBLISHER:Random House Canada
AVAILABLE FROM:Your local bookseller or online
FORMAT:Softcover, 427 pages
AUTHOR:David Sibley
Carl Duguay
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