“That’s a gorgeous book!” said our operations manager as I pulled Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota from its shipping box. Indeed it is: a big glossy tome full of beautiful close-up photos of glistening wet leaves and berries, with captions like “plump red arils dangle from the leathery capsule” and “fruits remain enclosed in the shaggy calyx.” Botanic porn, if you will. (What’s that…you won’t? Okay, I understand.)
|trees and shrubs of minnesota by welby r. smith. published by the university of minnesota press (2008). $59.95.|
This is a book for everyone…so, at least, is the intention of its author Welby Smith. “Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota,” he writes in a preface, “was created to serve a broad purpose and appeal to a broad audience, particularly those seeking information on the identification, distribution, and natural history of Minnesota’s trees and shrubs (including woody vines).” It might be fair to replace that “particularly” with a colon—if you’re not looking for 703 pages of information on trees and shrubs, you should probably spend your $59.95 elsewhere.
If you do give a crap about trees and shrubs (not to be confused with “bushes,” which are multiplant clusters comprising multiple instances of shrub), you’re sure to happily lose yourself in this vast volume. It’s a little clunky for use as a field guide, but if you’re looking to identify that stupid tree the City of St. Paul planted on your boulevard ten years ago and left to drop dark pellets all over your sidewalk every spring, cracking TaSoM is the next best thing to inviting Welby Smith over to take a look-see himself.
It’s not a bad gift idea if you want a coffee-table book for the plant-lover on your list…or even the art-lover on your list. After all, it’s a lot more likely that you’re going to run into a mysterious dwarf bilberry or an intriguing succulent hawthorn than an unidentified Leonardo or a random Caravaggio.
Jay Gabler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.