The Essential Tree Selection Guide by Henrik Sjöman and Arit Anderson is a mammoth book that no forester should do without, as our reviewer discovered for himself. 

THE United Kingdom has laid big plans to plant trees, although with missed tree-planting targets already littering the landscape, it appears to be still in the planning stage. But the tardiness of our country’s tree-planting programme could turn out to be a long-term life-saver. Politicians, civil servants and NGOs tasked with getting millions trees into the ground will now have the opportunity to study and digest a unique and truly amazing text entitled The Essential Tree Selection Guide. And ‘essential reading’ is exactly what it is. 

You would think this type of text might come in the form of handbook which foresters, arborists, conservationists and others could carry around in their pockets, but this text weighs in at the other end of the book spectrum. So large and weighty, the Post Office gave my regular and near-retired postman a rest that day and sent out a young buck with big biceps. Biblical is the only word to describe this text, which is truly biblical in authority and dimensions. Indeed, the last time I tried to lift such a weighty text was the family Bible at my grandmother’s house.

Written and assembled by Henrik Sjöman and Arit Anderson, this work of art is claimed to be The Essential Tree Selection Guide for climate resilience, carbon storage, species diversity and other ecosystem benefits, and no-one could argue with that assertion.

Never has there been a better, or more important, time to plant trees and allow them to play their traditional vital role in the health of the natural world, and to additionally provide a whole host of hidden benefits, including the cooling effects of shade, the interception of rainfall and carbon capture; but only if we plant the right tree in the right place, say the authors.

The book, they say, offers a contemporary approach to tree selection, and is desperately needed at this time of dynamic climate change. First and foremost, it underscores the need to study trees in their natural environment to enable an understanding of what each species requires to establish and grow to its full potential. Only then can a tree species provide and deliver the multiple ecosystem benefits required in this dynamic world.  The foreword is written by Kevin Martin, head of tree collections, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who says: “I find this approach to selecting trees truly inspirational even after a lifetime of working with trees.”

International tree expert Sjöman, and Anderson, garden designer and passionate advocate for the environment, have dedicated themselves to this visionary tree-selection guide, which is suitable for the world’s temperate regions. The book begins with a lucid explanation of ecosystem services (the hidden benefits) and how they are delivered by trees. Different trees have different attributes fitted to their roles in the natural environment. Some tree species excel at furnishing food for pollinators, while others are experts in filtration and extract pollutants from the atmosphere. Others are adapted to cope with extreme environmental conditions, including drought, flooded and low-nutrient soils, and strong winds.

Forestry Journal: Henrik Sjöman and Arit AndersonHenrik Sjöman and Arit Anderson (Image: Stock images)

The meat and marrow of the book is a unique A–Z Tree Directory based on Sjöman’s rigorous research and observation of tree species in a range of climates, countries and locations. It covers 500 tree species selected for their ecosystem benefits, resilience and a whole host of other criteria that will ensure their continuing contributions to our future landscapes and gardens. There is an additional rapid-reference Tree Selection Table providing the reader with the key attributes for each species at a glance.  

This book provides a truly comprehensive coverage of temperate trees, with readers more than assured of finding their species of interest in the A–Z Tree Directory. The colour plates of each and every tree are truly amazing in coverage and quality.

It is very much a hands-on text, with Sjöman and Anderson explaining clearly and succinctly:

•How to maximise a tree’s chance of reaching maturity and having an extended life for effective carbon sequestration.
•How to select a tree species for specific situations such as drought or storm conditions, or nutrient deficiencies.
•How different trees furnish and deliver different types of shade, and which will work best for your site.
•Those tree species which are the most effective in mitigating flooding, while remembering that all tree species achieve this to some degree. 
•The importance of succession in tree selection, and how that should affect your choice of tree.
•The importance of taking into account trees which are planted outside of your boundaries when making your tree planting choice, particularly in a garden environment.
•The contributions that trees make to soil regeneration.
•The way in which every single garden and patch of green space contributes essential benefits to the wider environment.

Sjöman and Anderson have produced a truly amazing book, but there is one thing that slightly worries me. That is pests and diseases, which are apparently not considered when deciding what is the right tree for the right place, although I accept the authors may consider such a specialist subject to be outside the scope of this book.

Forestry Journal: The colour plates of each and every tree are truly amazing in coverage and quality.The colour plates of each and every tree are truly amazing in coverage and quality. (Image: Getty)

However, I can envisage all sorts of situations where such considerations may be a matter of life or death for trees. For instance, Corsican pine and radiata pine with their Mediterranean climate-like origins are clearly considered as prime candidates as part of logical species selection to cope with climate warming in the UK, especially on sandy, free-draining soils like those in coastal East Anglia. Indeed, huge numbers of Corsican pine trees were planted in Thetford Forest (Suffolk and Norfolk) long before climate change was on the agenda. But both Corsican and Radiata pine have since succumbed badly to dothistroma needle blight disease, which now effectively precludes planting these pines anywhere in the British Isles.  

That said, this is an epic book and worth every penny of the £50 it will set you back.