Cottonwood and the River of Time

On Trees, Evolution, and Society

Reinhard F. Stettler

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: Nature and Environment
  • Bibliographic information: 288 pp., 39 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Cottonwood and the River of Time looks at some of the approaches scientists have used to unravel the puzzles of the natural world. With a lifetime of work in forestry and genetics to guide him, Reinhard Stettler celebrates both what has been learned and what still remains a mystery as he examines not only cottonwoods but also trees more generally, their evolution, and their relationship to society.

Cottonwoods flourish on the verge, near streams and rivers. Their life cycle is closely attuned to the river's natural dynamics. An ever-changing floodplain keeps generating new opportunities for these pioneers to settle and prepare the ground for new species. Perpetual change is the story of cottonwoods - but in a broader sense, the story of all trees and all kinds of life. Through the long parade of generation after generation, as rivers meander and glaciers advance and retreat, trees have adapted and persisted, some for thousands of years. How do they do this? And more urgently, what lessons can we learn from the study of trees to preserve and manage our forests for an uncertain future?

In his search for answers, Stettler moves from the floodplain of a West Cascade river, where seedlings compete for a foothold, to mountain slopes, where aspens reveal their genetic differences in colorful displays; from the workshops of Renaissance artists who painted their masterpieces on poplar to labs where geneticists have recently succeeded in sequencing a cottonwood's genome; from the intensively cultivated tree plantations along the Columbia to old-growth forests challenged by global warming.

Natural selection and adaptation, the comparable advantages and disadvantages of sexual versus asexual reproduction, the history of plant domestication, and the purposes, risks, and potential benefits of genetic engineering are a few of the many chapters in this story. By offering lessons in how nature works, as well as how science can help us understand it, Cottonwood and the River of Time illuminates connections between the physical, biological, and social worlds.
Reinhard F. Stettler is professor emeritus of forestry at the University of Washington.
Preface and Acknowledgments

Part I: The Tree and the River
1. The Tree
2. The River
3. Regeneration
4. Water and Nutrient Relations
5. Perpetuate and Proliferate!

Part II: Variation and Variability
6. Clones
7. Why Sex?
8. Password?
9. Natural Hybridization

Part III: From Species to Populations to Genes
10. Common Gardens
11. Transplanted Trees
12. Getting Closer to the Genes
13. Migrant Trees
14. Adaptation and Its Limits

Part IV: Trees and Society
15. Changing Rivers - Changing Landscapes
16. The Dawn of Agriculture
17. The Farmer's Trees
18. From Farmers' Trees to Tree Farms
19. Poplar - A Model Tree
20. Tree Genomics and Beyond
21. Between Old Growth and Plantations
22. The Essence of Trees
23. Outlook


"Reinhard Stettler, Professor Emeritus of forestry at University of Washington, caps his career by describing his deep respect for trees in Cottonwood and the River of Time."
-The Oregon Quarterly

"Reading this unique book is akin to sitting down with a world-renowned scientist and hearing a story filled with scientific facts about the natural history, ecology, and genetics of cottonwoods. The story that unfolds is not necessarily linear, but is certainly appealing to anyone interested in the natural history of trees. There are witty anecdotes and quaint illustrations throughout, adding to the overall charm of the book. Recommended."