A Modern History of Ancient Trees


By Jared Farmer

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The epic story of the planet’s oldest trees and the making of the modern world
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 travelers 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.



ONE SUMMER DAY IN 1988, WHILE YELLOWSTONE BURNED, MY FATHER and I drove through Utah’s “West Desert.” Just beyond the Nevada border lay our destination: Great Basin National Park. Leaving US 50, the “Loneliest Road in America,” we went up and up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive—a route so smooth it felt too easy—and killed the engine in a subalpine parking lot. From there, we hiked the short trail to the cirque beneath the second-highest mountain in the Silver State. We gazed at the “glacier”—not much more than a rock wall chocked with dirty ice. During its retreat to near nothingness, the cirque glacier had exposed layers of moraines. On a soilless field of quartzite blocks stood trees that looked geological as much as botanical. My father, a scientist at Brigham Young University, must have told me this population of pines postdated the Pleistocene. I was a teenager, so maybe I didn’t care. I can’t remember. I do recall being possessed by the peak. I desired to climb it.

A few years later, after scampering up the ridge—my first Thirteener—I left my name in the notebook in the mailbox on the summit. Two entries stuck with me. A European who had toured the charismatic red-rock country of southern Utah conveyed relief at the grayness of the Great Basin. And a local man from White Pine County, Nevada, shared his heartache at high altitude. I’m so lonely, he wrote. I just want a boyfriend.

Two decades passed, and I revisited the cirque, my attention on pines. Prior to drafting a manuscript on ancient trees, I wanted to pay respects. Also, I admit, I hoped for some kind of revelation within the rocky grove. Habits of magical thinking acquired in my religious upbringing die hard. I knew that somewhere in the shadow of the everlasting peak was a former living being, an almost sacred thing—the oldest tree ever known to science. I longed to be near, though not too close. I resisted the urge to pilgrimage to a stump. Being a professor of history, I historicized the object of my yearning as a cultural fetish.

The very next year, I returned. My heart had changed my mind. I had to see and touch the remains of the Great Basin bristlecone pine known as WPN-114.




Plants endowed with oldness have been objects of reverence for millennia. Five species stand out for the density and duration of traditions around them: cedar, olive, ginkgo, pipal, and baobab. In a kind of biocultural symbiosis, these trees provide economic and spiritual services, while humans provide care. To one degree or another, each species has been domesticated. Speculation about the limits of their life spans antedates science. Well into the modern period, arboreal longevity remained a matter of approximation—and exaggeration—rather than precision. In recent decades, scientists have validated what nonscientists have long known: particular iconic specimens have persisted in proximity to people across many centuries. For the longest-living individuals of these five species, endurance is symbiotic—a combined function of evolutionary potential and human assistance. Veneration does not, however, ensure against destruction. Global change and regional conflict can terminate assisted longevity. As can ordinary use. The only thing commensurate with dendrophilia is deforestation.


If history is an archive of stories, the original oldest trees may be the Cedars of Lebanon—world-famous symbols of permanence and loss. They stand tall in the Torah and in a literary precursor, the Epic of Gilgamesh. In ancient texts, “cedar” could function as a poetic catchall for “tree,” but when paired with the place-name “Lebanon,” it usually meant Cedrus libani. For millennia, Mount Lebanon’s cedars have been adored and demolished. Today, in its emblematic habitat, the species has nowhere higher to retreat, having been pushed to the limit by humans.

It all starts with Gilgamesh. The title character of the Mesopotamian epic may or may not have been a historical person, a king, from the third millennium BCE. In the story, he’s a demigod who becomes human. A poem about his coming of age was told and retold in multiple languages—Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite, Hurrian—then standardized around 1200 BCE, as written in cuneiform in twelve parts. For another thousand years, the epic appeared on clay tablets marked by artisans. It didn’t survive as Greek or Latin translations. After a multimillennial life, the epic was forgotten—buried—for two millennia. In the late nineteenth century, British archaeologists excavated an ancient library in Iraq and recovered fragments of the epic. The nature of the text—a story with no original, no official, and no complete version, a story with the weight of ancient civilization but without the burden of modern civilization—lends itself to contemporary readings.

Gilgamesh is tall in stature, short in wisdom. He tyrannizes his own kingdom. To temper the youthful demigod, the gods create a wild man, Enkidu. After fighting to a draw, Gilgamesh accepts Enkidu as an equal. A bromance for the ages begins.

The king wants to make a monument to himself on Cedar Mountain. He dares his new best friend to trespass with him in the dwelling of the gods. Despite premonitions, the demolitionists trek to mountains beyond mountains, cross a final ravine, and enter the primeval forest. The trees grow thick and tall; the canopy calls out in a chorus of cicadas, birds, and monkeys. Fragrant resin drips from the cedars like sticky rain. The heroes waste no time chopping. Humbaba, the forest’s tusk-faced guardian-giant, arrives on the scene. He reprimands Enkidu, a former acquaintance, and issues a challenge. At the close of an earth-shattering battle, the ogre curses the intruders with shortened lives. They murder him anyway. After surveying their work, they marvel to themselves: we have reduced the forest to a wasteland. Hoping to salvage the sacrilege, Enkidu removes the loftiest cedar—a tree whose crown had scraped the cope of heaven—as one solid timber, and guides it down the Euphrates to serve as a temple door. Gilgamesh takes his own trophy, Humbaba’s head, in a sack.

For their joint offenses, Enkidu pays the price. The gods cause him to waste away, leaving Gilgamesh alone, dejected, and newly conscious of his eventual demise. After a long, failed quest—first for immortality, then for rejuvenation—Gilgamesh accepts his humanity, his mortality; he comes home to his people in the city. His days of violation behind him, he grows in wisdom. He does what wise kings do: he builds a wall. Deep inside the brickwork, he places a box—perhaps a cedar box—containing the original account of his adventure.

The ancient forest of Mount Lebanon contained junipers, firs, and pines, but only cedars became literary metaphors and economic indicators. The reason is resin. Cedarwood contains organic polymers that resist shrinkage, warpage, and rot, making it ideal for woodworking. Additionally, its resin can be refined into medicines and salves as well as agents for caulking, wood preserving, and embalming. When twentieth-century archaeologists exhumed a ship beside the Great Pyramid of Giza, the 4,500-year-old cedar planks still smelled sweet.

Egypt obtained its everlasting wood from Phoenicia, a group of coastal city-states in present-day Lebanon and Syria. Every major power in the ancient Near East traded with Phoenician timber merchants. According to the Torah, some of the best cedar ended up in Jerusalem, after King Solomon of Israel contracted with King Hiram of Tyre. Solomon finished the First Temple in aromatic cedar, and for himself constructed an opulent residence called the House of the Forest of Lebanon.

Solomon’s timbers outlasted his buildings. In a wood-scarce region, conquest led to recycling. No city has been conquered more times than Jerusalem. Through radiocarbon dating, researchers have demonstrated that Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holy building that has occupied the Temple Mount since the eighth century CE, was built in part with cedar beams reclaimed from Roman temples, which themselves were made with material taken from the monuments of Herod, the Jewish king who erected the Second Temple.

The plunder goes back further. Nebuchadnezzar II sacked Solomon’s Temple in the sixth century BCE, conquering both Israel and Phoenicia, and taking captives back to Babylon. By the Euphrates, Nebuchadnezzar raised a cedar-roofed palace and a cedar-jointed ziggurat, a structure that may have served as literary inspiration for the skyscraping Tower of Babel. On his edifices, the king inscribed first-person boasts, which he repeated on monuments placed on roads leading to Lebanon. They are all of a piece: I did what no other king could do, I cut through mountains, I crushed stone, I cut down cedars with my own pure hands. Nebuchadnezzar seemingly channeled Gilgamesh—a story he would have known.

After the Neo-Babylonians came the conquering Persians, then Greeks, then Romans. All wanted cedar. By the Common Era, Phoenician cultures ceased to exist. In the second century, Emperor Hadrian placed the equivalent of one hundred “No Trespassing” signs around Mount Lebanon. Abbreviated Latin inscriptions on boulders marked the timber on the other side as imperial property. Today, shrubland surrounds these Roman boundary stones, and people dig around them, looking for buried treasure. The evergreen glory of Lebanon is nowhere to be seen.

To explain what happened, modern commentators fall back on a universal fable of hubris and exploitation—in two words, the “Gilgamesh gene.”1 Evidence suggests a more complicated story. The extraction of Lebanon’s wood seems to have peaked in the Bronze Age, and again during the Roman period. But the greatest human impact on conifer ecology occurred after the fall of the Roman Empire. Low-status mountain dwellers—refugees, ascetics, shepherds—did more than pharaohs and emperors to curtail the kingdom of cedar.

In the early medieval period, for the first time, large numbers of people moved to the Levantine high country. Mount Lebanon became a refuge for ethnoreligious minorities, notably Maronites (eastern Catholics), who cleared forests and terraced the land for cereal crops. On a continuing basis, locals cut trees for firewood and charcoal. Highlanders also tended goats, which nibbled the understory to the ground each season. Conifers did not evolve with mammals, much less grazers. It takes decades for a Cedrus libani to reach sexual maturity and produce its distinctive upright cones.

By the late medieval period, Cedrus on Mount Lebanon had been reduced to scattered, high-elevation stands. The most prominent—for centuries believed to be the last—occurred within a cirque, elevation 2,000 meters, below the range’s highest peak. Rising from a hummocky expanse of talus, the trees assumed layered, asymmetrical forms, nothing like the tall, straight cedars praised in ancient texts. Below the cirque ran Qadisha Valley, a cave-pocked cleft that has sheltered monastic communities since the early Christian era. Maronites from Bsharri, the valley’s upper village, guarded the grove for centuries. At altars beneath the trees, they performed mass for the Feast of Transfiguration.

Starting around 1550, European pilgrim-tourists began journeying to the top of Qadisha Valley to see these incorruptible relics of biblical time. Visitors obsessively enumerated the grove’s remaining “Ancient Ones”—specimens coeval with Creation, or the Deluge, or the Prophets, or Solomon. No one could agree on a time frame, or a census system. Should they add up only the largest trees, or only those that looked old? Sixteenth-century tallies varied from twenty-three to twenty-eight. The problem became proverbial: The Cedars of Lebanon cannot be counted.

By the nineteenth century, the number of “Patriarchs” or “Saints” had fallen as low as five or ten. Scientific botanists began to speculate about the future extinction of the species as well as the current age of the oldest individuals. Extrapolating from the tree rings on a cut branch, Joseph Hooker and Andrew Murray—a pair of botanical authorities from Britain—inferred maximum life spans of 2,500 and 5,000 years, respectively. Drawing from geology, they hypothesized that glaciation, followed by warming, had driven the species to refugia. It may be all wrong, wrote Murray, to ascribe cedar decline to “the maladministration of governments, the wastefulness of man, and the desolation of war.” He posited a different theory: “climatal change.”2

Contemporary tourists took a shorter view. They blamed Arabs and their goats, and also themselves for the disappointing raggedness of the “most renowned natural monuments in the universe.”3 Every trunk had been defaced with penknives and stained by campfires. Limbs had been hacked, bark stripped, cones picked clean. The famed adventurer Richard Francis Burton couldn’t hide his disdain for the “Cedar Clump,” which he called “essentially unpicturesque.”4 Burton and other Britons noted smugly that Cedrus libani grew better in the British Isles, where it had been introduced widely for its biblical aura.

At Bsharri, the first bureaucratic conservation efforts dated to 1873–1883, when Rüstem Pasha served as the Ottoman-appointed Christian governor of Mount Lebanon. Taking personal interest in the sacred grove, Pasha issued regulations, appointed a guardian, and authorized construction of a wall around the trees, approximately 450 in number. He wanted to try reforestation, too, but couldn’t find a native source for cedar cuttings and seedlings. He had to place an order with the Royal Botanic Garden in Brussels.

New pressures on Lebanon’s remnant forests arrived in the twentieth century. The opening decade witnessed the last major logging in the highlands. Resinous timber no longer served as temple doors and palace roofs but as railroad ties. Two wood-intensive regional projects—the Damascus–Medina railway and the Aleppo–Baghdad railway—exacerbated international tensions. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, then the end of the French Mandate after World War II, Lebanon became independent. For its emblem, the new nation adopted Cedrus libani and printed graphical cedars everywhere. Initially, the state neglected to safeguard its living emblems, as symbolized by the ski resort adjacent to Bsharri’s “Old Grove.” Finally, in the 1960s, in parallel with the global environmental movement, Lebanon inventoried its twelve relict groves—comprising fewer than three thousand hectares—and began reforestation projects with UN assistance. The Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) disrupted all conservation, though the placement of landmines inadvertently protected two groves from damage. A new era began in the 1990s. The government gave blanket protection to the national tree, established new reserves, and authorized new plantings of the species. For its part, UNESCO gave World Heritage designation to Qadisha Valley, including the famous grove, now called Arz el-Rab (Cedars of God) in Arabic.

Creating protected areas does not automatically create protections, especially in a country recovering from war. Monitoring reports from UNESCO have complained about illegal developers, unlicensed concessionaires, and reckless tourists at Arz el-Rab. The grove’s legal status is highly complex: owned by the Maronite Patriarchate; managed by an NGO; overseen by various local, national, and international entities. Each of the other eleven has unique complications. Collectively, the Cedars of Lebanon suffer from the same conditions that afflict the Lebanese—political instability and economic precarity.

There are ecological threats, too, and they relate to planetary changes. In the 1990s, in multiple groves, swarms of sawflies began defoliating cedars. With international funding, Lebanese and French experts controlled this infestation, but more outbreaks will come in the future as winters continue to get milder and ski resorts become snowless. Interglacial “climatal change” has become anthropogenic “climate change.” Modelers predict that by 2100 only a handful of high-altitude locations on Mount Lebanon will be able to support cedar—assuming that people continue to assist their migration and defense. Cedrus is a unifying symbol in a nation divided by sectarianism and stymied by corruption. In fall 2019, Lebanese protesters filled the streets to demand the ouster of the political class; in the same season, forest fires of unusual severity burned across the mountains.

At the genomic level, Cedrus libani isn’t yet endangered. In the Taurus Mountains, Turkey, cedar has better habitat, with room to move upward. In Lebanon, the future promises further domestication. The Lebanese will surely find a way to keep the species in place, if only for symbolic connections to Phoenicians from millennia ago. Lebanon without cedar would be like Kilimanjaro without snow. Above the Cedars of God, just below the summit, a future sacred grove has been planted on abandoned agricultural terraces.

Botanists have feared the worst for Lebanon’s cedars since the mid-nineteenth century, when geological time and evolutionary time made extinction newly thinkable. In that same moment of modernity, a story circulated about the oldest introduced cedar in Europe. Supposedly, the plant had been brought to Paris at the king’s request. On a prolonged voyage across the Mediterranean, the royal curator of plants went thirsty by choice; he donated his ration of water to the seedling, which he carried in his hat, packed with soil. The collector managed to get the potted-tree-in-a-hat past a disbelieving customs officer, and added it to the Jardin des Plantes, where it grew to monumental size. In its hundredth year, 1837, this tree—the oldest local specimen of the oldest-growing species—was summarily cut down to make room for France’s first railway. The plant couldn’t survive a “world of changes.”5

Although none of it was true—except for a large cedar in the Jardin des Plantes—this allegory spoke to anxiety about the pace of technological disruption. This feeling has only grown with time. It should be some small consolation, then, that the cedar in Paris survives to this day. On Mount Lebanon, the oldest specimen ever documented by scientists had 645 growth rings. The Parisian cedar is almost halfway there.


The same ancient civilizations that felled highland cedars cultivated lowland olives. The northern Levant is a leading contender for the “cradle” of olive horticulture. For millennia, Olea, the oil-producing tree, has defined the Mediterranean.

If its domestication roughly seven thousand years ago is one of the greatest unrecorded acts of history, Olea deserves much of the credit. Mediterranean peoples gave this plant practically nothing and received boundless gifts in return. Unlike citruses and apples, which can only be propagated by grafting, an olive cultivar can be cloned by slicing off some basal material and sticking it in the ground. Olives are preadapted for cultivation. In the Neolithic period, olive culture fell somewhere between foraging and gardening. Depending on the situation, people grafted cultivars onto wild olives (oleasters) or uprooted wild olives to serve as garden rootstock. Because oleasters and olives cross-fertilize, the categories “wild,” “domesticated,” and “feral” barely apply. Cultivars produce bigger, oilier fruits, and no spines. Horticulturists prune them into treelike forms conducive to human labor, whereas oleasters occur in shrublands called maquis. Compared to monocultural crop trees, traditional olive groves in the Mediterranean sustain high levels of biodiversity. Functionally, they are native woodlands.

Even more than cereal or rice agriculture, horticulture requires long-term thinking. It takes three or four decades for an olive to reach peak production. Many proverbs convey this message: I planted my grapevine, but my grandfather planted my olive. After a conservative wait, olives become low-maintenance members of the family economy. They grow on rocky slopes unsuitable for other crops. Besides pruning and harvesting, they demand little care and no water or fertilizer. Harvest arrives in late autumn to early winter, an otherwise slow time.

The longevity of Olea is impressive among fellow angiosperms (broad-leaved, nonconiferous, fruit-bearing plants). The olive’s staying power comes from regeneration. In the original botany textbook, Theophrastus argued: “The longest-lived tree is that which in all ways is able to persist, as does the olive by its trunk, by its power of developing side-growth, and by the fact that its roots are so hard to destroy.”6 Olives grow sectionally, meaning that separate branches connect to separate roots. In hard times, an olive can die in sections without wholly dying; in good times, it can grow new sections.

Endowed with unusual properties, the olive tree occupied a special place in Greek mythology, law, and war. The gift of Athena perfected the gift of Prometheus: Olives gave oil, and oil gave light. To hurt such a tree was an act of aggression. During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, hoplites routinely attacked the olives of their rivals. Greeks had a verb, dendrotomeô, to describe the hostile cutting of fruit trees. For practical and cultural reasons, they rarely laid waste to fruited landscapes. Olives aren’t easily uprooted. Moreover, Greek law protected stumps, for they were considered living fruiters. Sophocles, in one of his plays, praised the self-renewing, indestructible tree that mocks the enemy’s spear.7 Even in wartime, special trees had untouchable status: Spartans spared the olives surrounding the Academy in Athens. The Persians under Xerxes felt no such compunctions when they invaded Attica. While ransacking the Acropolis, they lit Athena’s sacred tree on fire. As related by Herodotus, the charred olive sprouted new growth the very next day.8

For the same reasons that they are hard to kill, olives are hard to date. Their sectional growth and their adventitious regrowth—plus their propensity to hollow out—defeat tree-ring scientists. Therefore, the oldest believed tree functions as the oldest known tree. Measured in the number of believers, the oldest is a collection of eight—the sacred specimens that grow within the walls of the Garden of Olives, the Franciscan sanctuary in East Jerusalem. They stand as Christian symbols of eternal life.

The Greek-derived Christ, like the Hebrew-derived messiah, means “anointed”—marked with blessed oil. The New Testament is rich with olive imagery. However, an olive garden as such does not appear in the four Gospels. Rather, the evangelists mention an undefined place called Gethsemane near the Mount of Olives that Jesus frequented during the last spring of his life. The Semitic word gat-šemānî means “olive press.” Only the Gospel of John mentions a “garden” nearby.9 In the original Greek, “garden” (kēpos) suggests cropland. In Jesus’s time, the Mount of Olives contained an oil-processing facility within a cave. The owner of this underground facility may have rented the space to Jesus in the off-season.

The Mount of Olives became a magnet for Christian pilgrims as early as the fourth century CE. Here they commemorated the Agony, the Arrest, and the Ascension of Christ, not to mention the tomb of the Virgin. Byzantines built churches on the mount, as did later Crusaders. Through cycles of conquest and construction, revolt and razing, local olives survived, century after century. As a discrete pilgrimage site, though, the Garden of Olives is a nineteenth-century creation—a material response to interdenominational and international rivalries. After centuries on the periphery, Palestine became a geopolitical pawn. In this context, tourists flocked to the Holy Land, and the built environment changed to accommodate them. By century’s end, Christian sightseers could choose between three gardens called Gethsemane—one Roman Catholic, one Greek Orthodox, one Russian Orthodox.

Franciscans owned the traditional site. It featured gnarled, romantic trees—and little else. Lacking permission from the Ottomans to raise a church, the monks walled off their olives in 1847, and subsequently turned the enclosure into an open-air chapel, with stations of the cross. They sold olive-stone rosaries, wooden relics, and oil to tourists. To meet European expectations of a “garden,” the custodians planted ornamental flowers. Later, they added French-style formal plantings. “The stiffest garden I ever saw,” complained one American.10 By the end of Ottoman rule, the site had morphed into an arboretum, with palms and cacti alongside olives.

Under the British Mandate—the first Christian administration of Palestine since the Crusades—Franciscans seized the opportunity to erect a basilica next to the trees. After moving their ritualism indoors, the custodians restored the olive yard to its “original” condition: they uprooted flowerbeds, cypresses, picket fences. Today, the naturalistic garden appeals to born-again Christians. Unlike Victorian Protestants, who scoffed at the credulity of Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims, contemporary evangelicals pray under the same trees where Jesus prayed.

Could that possibly be true? According to Josephus, a Jewish eyewitness of the Great Revolt, the Roman commander Titus destroyed all the gardens and fruit trees adjoining Jerusalem in AD 70, leaving a melancholy scene of desolation.11 It seems doubtful that legionnaires axed every tree. Besides, olives can resurrect from the stump. Believers can therefore believe.

In 2012, at a Vatican news conference, Italian botanists reported on an unprecedented investigation. They had radiocarbon dated the oldest wood at Gethsemane and separately estimated the age span of the absent wood—the missing years. According to the researchers, the hallowed olives were eight to nine hundred years old, coeval with the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They speculated that Crusaders had planted the trees as a group, given that genetic tests indicated that all eight shared the same parent. Whether that parent had occupied the site previously—or as far back as Jesus—was impossible to say, though the scientists seemed disposed to bolster tradition. “Plants of greater age than our olives are not cited in the scientific literature,” claimed one of the researchers.12


  • “Rich...fascinating.”
     —Wall Street Journal
  • “A sweeping, exceptional tribute to the oldest living organisms on Earth.”—Forbes
  • “[An] expansive global history of grand and venerable trees…Old trees have much to teach us: we would be wise to listen.”—Nature
  • “Magisterial.”—Natural History
  • “The book succeeds as a cultural history of the conservation ideal that led society to forest preservation.”—Science
  • "[A] masterful blend of natural and human history—with an emphasis on the human. Farmer's elderflora aren't just amazing old organisms, but a backdrop against which human drama, hubris and decency play out."—New Scientist
  • "Farmer deserves credit for weaving such complex and disparate materials into his narrative whole."—Spectator
  • "From the cedars of Lebanon to the olive trees of the Mediterranean, and from the Paleozoic era to the present day, Farmer presents a meticulously researched and highly engaging account."—Observer
  • “Farmer masterfully blends science, religion, and history, making for a beautiful and moving portrait of nature over time.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • "An ingenious examination of old trees mixing history, politics, and science…Nature lovers will relish the author’s stories."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "Farmer shares an unusual breadth and depth of botanical and human history, offering long, sometimes twisty profiles of significant scientists, among them Edmund Schulman, who pioneered the field of dendrochronology, the study of growth rings."—Booklist, starred review
  • “A trove of remarkable information…Trees offer us much wisdom through the medium of Farmer’s narrative.”—Berlin Journal
  • “A worthwhile read.”—Daily Kos
  • “Because of the unique approaches it takes to the topic and to history telling, this book has something to offer a bevy of different readers.”
  • “Jared Farmer brings both classic and state-of-the-art botany alive.  Farmer shows a wonderfully deep understanding of the scientific process. He deftly communicates the research produced by generations of scientists.  Moreover, he shows singular insight into how we do what we do—and perhaps more importantly—why we spend our lives studying trees.”
     —Hope Jahren, bestselling author of Lab Girl
  • "In Elderflora, Jared Farmer has created something that has never existed before. It appears to be a series of interwoven journeys – biological, cultural, scientific – spanning Earth and revealing 5,000 years of living trees and our amazement in their presence. But the author’s mastery is unprecedented. Beautifully told, full of pathos, this book is itself a force of nature."—Dan Flores, New York Times-bestselling author of Coyote America
  • "Jared Farmer has written a history that is as big and bold as the ancient trees at its center. These trees have stood for ages and endured the unremitting assault of modern society. In them, Farmer finds not only a rich organic archive but also the wisdom of elders—wisdom that surely deserves our heed."—Jack E. Davis, author of The Gulf
  • "Jared Farmer has given us a stunning, globe-spanning, deep-time history, one that is also moving and intimate: a story of ancient trees in all their beauty and complexity that is also a story of how we imagine the best and worst of ourselves. From the hills of Lebanon to the trails of Sequoia National Park to Polish old growth, Elderflora  transports us, and asks us to seek a better world for trees—and ourselves."—Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast
  • "Through the engrossing stories of long-lived tree species and long-lived trees, historian Jared Farmer immerses us in 'tree time,' vividly evoking a deeper past and a vital, enduring future." —Michelle Nijhuis, author of Beloved Beasts
  • “Jared Farmer writes of ancient trees with a wisdom and eloquence worthy of the sacred values they have long embodied for so many people around the world. Elderflora is both a delight and a revelation.”
     —William Cronon, author of Nature’s Metropolis
  • “While it is true that the trees have no tongues, that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to us. Having once cored old growth trees on the grounds of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to decipher riddles of our past, I know something about the remarkable stories that elderflora tell us about our environment and our history. Read Jared Farmer’s lucid and fascinating book to discover the other mysteries told by elderflora.”—Michael Mann, author of The New Climate War

On Sale
Oct 18, 2022
Page Count
448 pages
Basic Books

Jared Farmer

About the Author

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. He lives in Philadelphia.  

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