Bark – An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees
Cédric Pollet – Francis Lincoln Ltd
I have just put down a hardback that could be the highlight of many a Christmas stocking this year and in case anything I write makes you doubt it, I loved this book.
Cédric Pollet is a highly qualified French landscape designer, having trained at Lyon, Reading and Angers, who changed direction after completing his studies, turning to plant photography as a career. His great passion is tree bark and this book represents his first ten years observing and recording trees around the world.
Each of the 81 species he has chosen to feature is given a double page spread, with a full page close-up on the right supported by smaller photographs of the whole tree in its element, either in the wild or an arboretum. There are also a few pages where a selection of Maples, for instance, are grouped together to allow the reader to compare and contrast.
Cédric talks to you through his photographs but the text gives each tree context; in it we learn about the land the tree comes from, its medicinal uses and the origins of the scientific name. Occasionally a little poetry of language comes through but mostly it is delivered straight. I have not read the original version in French and cannot tell if this is the result of the translator toning down the language for an Anglo-Saxon readership unused to a Gallic writing style.
A few silly errors have slipped passed the proof readers: Taxodium distichum is described as growing to only 1.5m (5ft tall) while the Lipstick Palm was said to tolerate temperatures no lower than boiling point (100°C / 500F)! In the end I decided that hunting for such errors was pointless and got back to enjoying the photography.
This is not to say the text does not contribute. A coffee table book this may be but I learned about cauliflory, discovered plants I had never heard of and the native uses of many familiar trees. The presentation follows an imaginary world tour but the selection is in all other respects eclectic and unordered. The criterion for inclusion was aesthetic quality and the result is a beautiful book which I will return to and encourage others to browse.
One surprising aspect of the book would undoubtedly delight the author: I immediately found myself looking more closely at tree bark during my morning walks with the dog. Our own 150 year old Sequoias are a daily delight, the peeling bark of the London Planes in the park by the river a recent discovery. I could hardly call my passion for plants “jaded” but it has been reinforced by the beautiful close-up photographs which are the principle feature of this wonderful book: Bark.
Would I buy this book? Perhaps not, but I would be delighted if I found it under the Christmas tree.