Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs

Excellent, but not superior

Note: I don't do affiliate advertising for books. The following is simply my opinion.

I have a new tree book in my library -- Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael A. Dirr. It falls a little short of my high expectations, initially, but I still expect it to be a very useful reference. Perhaps in time, I will cherish it as dearly as do most of its reviewers.

The book has hundreds of beautiful color photos of over 500 hardy species of native and exotic trees and shrubs. In the foreword, the author notes that the plants covered in the book will grow in zones 3 to 6, and most will grow in zones 7 or 8. For most species, a photo that depicts a typical, mature plant is provided, along with photos of any particularly ornamental characteristics of the plant.

Many of the plant descriptions include the names of attractive cultivars that are available through nurseries. Unique growing conditions needed by the species or cultivars are mentioned, as well as some of the negative characteristics such as unattractive winter foliage, susceptibility to disease, etc.

My main criticism of the book is that the type of information provided for one species may not be provided for the next. The author wrote about the characteristics of each plant that he considered most important. Sometimes comparisons of specific characteristics between two or more species are possible from his writing, but often not.

For complete sets of data for native species and for comparisons of species, I'll still be turning to Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers by Gary Hightshoe. For me, Dirr's beautiful photos and engaging descriptions will  be a supplement to, not a substitute for, the vast quantity of tabulated data presented by Hightshoe.

I should add that both of these books focus mainly on plants of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. If you live in the western U.S., many of your native species will not be found in either of these volumes.

4 comments -- please add yours:

How It Grows said...

It's a great book, but it's more of a supplement to Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. My only comment is that there are several plants like nandina and crapemyrtle that are commonly used in Virginia that are covered in the warm climate companion volume.


I have an old black and white edition edition of Dirr's book. Glad to know that there is a newer edition with colored photos. I know that folks rave about Dirr's book but I do believe -- like all environmental guides -- one needs other reference books to supplement what one guide does not cover. I am going to request your book suggestion from my local library. Sounds very interesting. Thanks.--barbara

Genevieve said...

Maybe I need Dirr's Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, but before I buy it, I think I'll try to look at it somewhere. I bought Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs based on dozens of extremely positive reviews. It truly is a very good book, but it's not what I expected.

Barbara, I hope your library can find that book for you. It is the most expensive book I have ever bought for myself (not counting college textbooks). I found a gently used copy on Abebooks for $100 and was happy because it was around $150 new at that time.

There is an older version that is simply Native Trees For Urban and Rural America (no shrubs or vines). Our library had that volume, and I had it checked out so much of the time that I felt like it was my own. Then, for some reason, they discarded it or maybe someone stole or lost it. I had no choice -- I had to buy my own copy if the library wasn't going to provide it anymore!

Deb said...

Dirr just published (2009) a new edition of his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, which has extensive and well-structured text and line drawings on myriad woody plants. How It Grows is right -- the color-photo book really is a supplement, and it's most useful for gardeners and designers who want to know how a plant (not necessarily native, and sometimes a cultivar) will look under cultivation in a designed landscape. Hightshoe's book is really the go-to guide for native plants. But if you want to read about introduced as well as native species, do check out Dirr's new edition. He has tons more information than almost any other available reference, he includes cultivars, he discusses culture, identifying characteristics, hardiness, and a number of other critical aspects of a plant, and he adds personal observation (sometimes quite funny) to quite a few of his discussions of plants.

I just found your blog and am looking forward to reading through it. Thanks for posting!

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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