Humans have always revered long-lived trees. But as historian Jared Farmer reveals in Elderflora, our veneration took a modern turn in the eighteenth century when naturalists embarked on a quest to locate and precisely date the oldest living things on earth. The new science of tree time prompted travellers to visit ancient specimens and conservationists to protect sacred groves. Exploitation accompanied sanctification, as old-growth forests succumbed to imperial expansion and the industrial revolution.
Taking us from Lebanon to New Zealand to California, Farmer surveys the complex history of the world's oldest trees, including voices of Indigenous peoples, religious figures, and contemporary scientists who study elderflora in crisis. In a changing climate, a long future is still possible, Farmer shows, but only if we give care to young things that might grow old.
Combining rigorous scholarship with lyrical writing, Elderflora chronicles the complex roles ancient trees have played in the modern world and illuminates how we might need old trees now more than ever.
Jared Farmer is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Andrew Carnegie Fellow, he is the author of several books, including On Zion’s Mount, which won the Francis Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians. He lives in Philadelphia.
"Jared Farmer brings both classic and state-of-the-art botany alive [...] he shows singular insight into how we do what we do-and perhaps more importantly-why we spend our lives studying trees."
– Hope Jahren, author of Lab Girl
"While it is true that the trees have no tongues, that doesn't mean they don't speak to us [...] Read Jared Farmer's lucid and fascinating book to discover the [...] mysteries told by elderflora."
– Michael Mann, author of The New Climate War
"Sacred trees [...] are at the root of historian Jared Farmer's magisterial study of arboreal longevity, but like the outstretched limbs of a luxuriant elm, his narrative extends over a broad range of social and scientific issues."
– Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History
"The book succeeds as a cultural history of the conservation ideal that led society to forest preservation."
– David W. Stahle, Science
"[An] expansive global history of grand and venerable trees."
– Josie Glausiusz, Nature
"A sweeping, exceptional tribute to the oldest living organisms on Earth."
– Rebecca Coffey, Forbes
"Short of actually having the honor of spending time in the presence of elderflora, I think Elderflora is the next best thing to provoke a sense of wonder."
– Dominic Boyer, The Berlin Journal