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.


“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, University of Pennsylvania and author of The New Climate War
"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
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