Trees in Paradise: A California History
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From roots to canopy, a lush, verdant history of the making of California.
California now has more trees than at any time since the late Pleistocene. This green landscape, however, is not the work of nature. It's the work of history.
In the years after the Gold Rush, American settlers remade the California landscape, harnessing nature to their vision of the good life. Horticulturists, boosters, and civic reformers began to "improve" the bare, brown countryside, planting millions of trees to create groves, wooded suburbs, and landscaped cities. They imported the blue-green eucalypts whose tangy fragrance was thought to cure malaria. They built the lucrative "Orange Empire" on the sweet juice and thick skin of the Washington navel, an industrial fruit. They lined their streets with graceful palms to announce that they were not in the Midwest anymore.
To the north the majestic coastal redwoods inspired awe and invited exploitation. A resource in the state, the durable heartwood of these timeless giants became infrastructure, transformed by the saw teeth of American enterprise. By 1900 timber firms owned the entire redwood forest; by 1950 they had clear-cut almost all of the old-growth trees.
In time California's new landscape proved to be no paradise: the eucalypts in the Berkeley hills exploded in fire; the orange groves near Riverside froze on cold nights; Los Angeles's palms harbored rats and dropped heavy fronds on the streets below. Disease, infestation, and development all spelled decline for these nonnative evergreens. In the north, however, a new forest of second-growth redwood took root, nurtured by protective laws and sustainable harvesting. Today there are more California redwoods than there were a century ago.
Rich in character and story, Trees in Paradise is a dazzling narrative that offers an insightful, new perspective on the history of the Golden State and the American West.
32 pages of illustrations.
no longer compete with Canada, Argentina, Russia, and Australia. To replace staples, Californians introduced a bewildering array of specialty crops. Only now, in the 1890s, did Southland growers substitute citrus wholesale for wine and raisin grapes and begin to phase out stone-fruit trees, including hundreds of thousands of peaches. The area around Anaheim switched to oranges and walnuts after a fungal blight (Pierce’s disease, formerly known as Anaheim’s disease) suddenly annihilated its vast
42. Hutchings, Scenes of Wonder, 143; “Californian Giants,” Living Age 52 (14 Feb. 1857), reprinted from Chambers’ Journal; Leslie, California, 246; “In the Matter of the Investigation of the Yosemite Valley Commissioners,” testimony, Feb. 1889, in Appendix to the Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the Twenty-eighth Session of the Legislature of the State of California, vol. 8, pt. 2 (SPO, 1889), 42–43, 73. 43. On fire in Mariposa, see Hal K. Rothman, Blazing Heritage: A History of Wildland
the Historical Society of Southern California 15, pts. 2–3 (1932): 336–46; Frona Eunice Wait, Wines and Vines of California: A Treatise on the Ethics of Wine-drinking (San Francisco, 1889); and the annual reports of the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners. On labor in the vineyards, see George Harwood Phillips, Vineyards & Vaqueros: Indian Labor and the Economic Expansion of Southern California, 1771–1877 (Norman, 2010), esp. chaps. 12–13; and Richard Steven Street, Beasts of the Field: A
with a House bill that authorized a smaller land purchase. In the meantime, G-P and other timber firms logged right up to the proposed boundaries of the park, a practice the Sierra Club called “legislation by chainsaw.” The final bill reached LBJ’s desk in October 1968.26 In its original form, Redwood National Park was an ungainly hybrid, a strip park whose boundaries encompassed three preexisting preserves unrelinquished by California. Thus about half of the 58,000 total acres had prior
land grant. After Americans took over in 1848, they proceeded to sell off the city’s inheritance indiscriminately. By 1908, when officials finally came to their senses, only 7,000 acres remained in reserve. These “pueblo lands” were located just south of Torrey Pines Mesa, near present-day La Jolla. In 1910 the city passed an ordinance providing for the “improvement” of the property and created the new position of pueblo forester.49 The job went to the evangelically industrious Max Watson. The