Trees in Paradise: The Botanical Conquest of California

2015 Winner of the Organization of American Historians’ Ray Allen Billington Prize

Winner of the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Award, Forest History Society
Winner of the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies
Finalist, Spur Award for Nonfiction Contemporary, Western Writers of America

At the intersection of plants and politics, Trees in Paradise is an examination of ecological mythmaking and conquest. The first Americans who looked out over California saw arid grasslands and chaparral, and over the course of generations, they remade those landscapes according to the aesthetic values and economic interests of settlers, urban planners, and boosters. In the San Fernando Valley, entrepreneurs amassed fortunes from vast citrus groves; in the Bay Area, gum trees planted to beautify neighborhoods fed wildfires; and across the state, the palm came to stand for the ease and luxury of the rapidly expanding suburbs. Meanwhile, thousands of native redwoods and sequoias were logged to satisfy the insatiable urbanizing impulse. Revealing differing visions of what California should and could be, this natural and unnatural history unravels the network of forces that shape our most fundamental sense of place.

Advance Praise

“Knowledgeable, wise, and compelling, Farmer’s book uncovers the subtle and surprising webs connecting the social, cultural, and natural worlds of California, and the planet.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


“An important addition to the California bookshelf.”—Los Angeles Times


“This brilliant new work of California history is a magnificent achievement.”—William Deverell, Director, Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West

About the Author

Jared Farmer is a professor of history at Stony Brook University who specializes in the environmental history of the American West. He is the author of two previous books: Glen Canyon Dammed: Inventing Lake Powell and the Canyon Country (University of Arizona Press, 1999) and On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard University Press, 2008). He is the winner of nine book prizes, numerous fellowships, and the Hiett Prize in the Humanities. Visit his website at