Written by French botanists who explored North American forests in the late 1700s, The North American Sylva is a monumental work with masterful illustrations and extensive botanic profiles. The book would help France reforest its post-war countryside, and become a landmark in North American forestry. Today, it remains readable and interesting—certainly a work of evergreen value.
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Under the direction of the French government, botanists André Michaux and his son, François-André, explored the forests of North America from 1785 to 1796. They were researching new tree species to repopulate the French countryside, whose forests had been depleted by war. With an eye for flora that would nurture Europe's post-war commerce and that could be successfully introduced into its ecologies, the French botanists produced lengthy species profiles—including local ethnobotanic uses, propagation techniques, and casual anecdotes.
Their collective work was published in two French collections (Flora Boreali-Americana (Paris, 1803) and Histoire des chênes de l'Amérique (Paris 1801)); a few years later, François-André returned to the United States to continue the project, and published a translated collection called The North American Sylva (Philadelphia, 1817-1819). The monumental work included illustrations by Pierre Joseph Redoute and Pancrace Bessa, both masters of botanical art, and was regarded as a foundation of American forestry.
Our gallery of selected trees from The North American Sylva includes several hand-colored lithographs and excerpts from Michaux's companion description. Useful and charming, the book represents an age of early botanic exploration and trade, told from the perspective of a Frenchman wandering amongst American trees and habits. The full book is here.