Pillars of life

A captivating new book pays homage to the wonder, mystery and splendour of our trees
For the vast majority of us, trees are a familiar and inevitable part of the landscape in which we live. Most of us have trees near us, perhaps in our own gardens, and they are an essential part of our lives. The knowledge that in many cases they have been in place for longer than we have, and are likely to outlive us, gives them a special significance, reminding us perhaps of our own relative lack of importance in the great scheme of things. Many of us recall favourite trees from our childhood, the ones we climbed or passed every day on the way to school, or which stood out for some reason as unusual or distinctive. Trees and memories of them are among the links that we use to connect time and place.

Trees-Nov14-02-590Left: Planes (Platanus orientalis) are large deciduous trees with a long history of human appreciation and can be as old as 2,000 years. They originate in the Balkans. Right: Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a small, deciduous tree grown for its graceful habit and autumn colour
Trees-Nov14-03-590Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is a large evergreen originating in the eastern United States. Its timber is so dense that it can stop bullets and cannonballs, making it a favourite with 19th-century naval engineers

Trees are an essential part of our sense of place, whether rural or urban, traditional or contemporary. Urban trees are particularly important; they have rarity value, and serve as poignant reminders of the wider natural world. It is no surprise that determined campaigns erupt when urban trees are threatened by developers or disease. We relate to trees very much as individuals; despite their size and form, they seem to have almost human characteristics, which gives all the more reason to defend them when they are threatened. In nature, trees grow alone only rarely. They are collective beings, the constituents of woods and forests, and we only really understand them if we see them as parts of a whole. Yet to fully appreciate their beauty, their majesty and in some cases their great size or immense age, we need to see them on their own, in splendid isolation. In her photography, Andrea Jones captures trees as individuals, with close-up details of their growth. Understanding trees, after all, is an essential part of our learning to be good stewards of the Earth.

Trees-Nov14-04-590Left: Kauri (Agathis australis), an evergreen conifer, originates in New Zealand. Right: The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is of great landscape, ecological and economic value, as its wood is hard-wearing but easy to work with
Trees-Nov14-05-590Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is an evergreen tree with smooth cinnamon-brown bark and glossy dark green leaves from coastal western North America. Inset: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) can be found in continental Europe and was introduced to Britain in the 16th century, where it has flourished

The Splendour Of The Tree, by Noel Kingsbury; photography by Andrea Jones (Frances Lincoln, £25).