Milford Trees, Inc.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Book Review:

Why (another reason) I read Michael Dirr

By Steve Wing

Michael Dirr, author of the hefty and definitive Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (1187 pages, 4 lbs, 6 oz.), since 1975 has been the standard desk reference on trees, shrubs, and vines for Landscape Architects, nurserymen, and others in the so-called green industry. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and CD ROM formats. The book retails (Millane’s Nursery and Twombly’s have it) for over $100 dollars and is worth every penny in my opinion. That it is in its Fifth or Sixth Edition suggests that this is not my opinion alone. Mr. Dirr, a professor at the University of Georgia, has distilled his encyclopedic knowledge into a species by species exposition of the characteristics, cultural requirements, habit, range, propagation techniques, usefulness in the landscape, etc. It is organized alphabetically by botanical name, Abelia to Ziziphus and is loaded with references to other sources for more information, in case he didn’t satisfy your curiosity. Sounds dry, doesn’t it? Well, read on and read closely, dear reader. A sampling of insights and observations from the botanical mind of Professor Dirr:
1) An aside, buried in the discussion of Acer rubrum: “Since the 1990 edition I have assessed the peculiar sexual preferences of this species—actually quite kinky for in a given population of seedlings staminate, pistillate, monoecious, and monoecious with hermaphrodite (bisexual) flowers occur; . . .”
2) On Platanus occidentalis, our troubled Sycamore trees: “If native to an area, do not remove the tree(s); however, do not plant it. . . .the tree is simply too large and is constantly dropping leaves, twigs and fruits. . .the tree was truly at its ‘best’ when anthracnose kept it devoid of leaves until mid to late June.”
3) On Pitch Pine, Pinus rigida: “ I have seen it all over Cape Cod in the sandiest of soils. In Maine, it grows on Cadillac Mountain, out of rock crevices. . .It will never make a commercial item, but is still
a worthy member of earth’s biodiversity, kind of like an old slipper.”
Mr. Dirr’s humanity and joy illuminate his intrepid scholarship; I know I am not the only one who has laughed out loud plowing through the vast fields of information laid out in The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.