Canadian Woodworking

Trees of North America

A good beginner's general reference guide that will surely enlighten anyone new to dendrology.


A good beginner's general reference guide that will surely enlighten anyone new to dendrology.

Author: Carl Duguay

This is an ambitious book – almost 600 pages covering 540 species. So yes, it’s probably the most comprehensive list of North American trees around.

AUTHOR: National Audubon Society
PRICE: $53.95
ISBN: 978-0525655718
YEAR: 2021
FORMAT: Softcover, 591 pages

At just over 2-1/2 pounds I think it’s too heavy and bulky to carry in a knapsack on leisurely walks or long hikes. However, the book is flexibound, which means it lies flat when open, making it very convenient to use at a desk or on your lap.

At the front end is an excellent 22-page primer on tree identification, conservation and biology.

Thereafter are 540 pages of tree species – one species per page. Species are arranged by taxonomy – which I’m not too keen on. Let’s suppose you’d like to know something about Black Walnut. Unless you’re really familiar with tree orders (walnut belongs to the Fagales order) you’ll have to scan the whole of the table of contents to find the pages for the walnut family. I think that most people will find it considerably quicker to search the index at the back of the book.

Each one-page species entry in the book includes descriptive text, a range map, and four or five color photos. The description is augmented with a brief note on (where applicable) the flowers, fruit, habitat, range, uses, similar species and conservation status of the tree. Also listed is the average diameter and height for the tree. I would have liked to see the inclusion of a tree silhouette, which I find helpful in tree identification.

You can image that fitting all that information on one page (along with the range map and those 4 to 5 photos) requires some judicial editing – while there isn’t a lot of detail what is presented is highly informative.

At 1-1/4″ square, the range maps are not overly useful other than giving you a very general idea of where there are dense and light populations of a species and where the species has naturalized.

The photos are informative, particularly those that serve as an aid in identifying a species – bark, fruit, leaves, etc. Some of the photos are a tad on the small size making it difficult to see pertinent details.

With a book this ambitious there are bound to be compromises – limited descriptive text, small photos, and the like. Still, having such a large range of species at your fingertips is a real boon when you want to do some basic research. And leafing through this book is an enjoyable diversion. I think the book serves well as a beginner’s general reference guide and will surely enlighten anyone new to dendrology.

Last modified: September 29, 2023

Carl Duguay - [email protected]

Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

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