SILVA OF NORTH AMERICA
A Description of the Trees Which Grow Naturally in North America Exclusive of Mexico
By Charles Sprague Sargent
Illustrated by Charles Edward Faxon
Published in 14 Volumes from 1891–1902
A silva is a work written to describe the trees of a particular region, and this monumental work, 21 years in the making, set out to describe and illustrate all the trees growing north of Mexico.
Charles Sprague Sargent (1841–1927) was a botanist, Harvard professor, and the first director of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. He became the country’s foremost expert on trees and directed the nation’s first census of trees. It was during this census that Sargent envisioned a more thorough accounting of trees, one that would describe and illustrate all their physical aspects, their locations, economic importance, historical backgrounds, ecological roles, and the lives of the explorers and naturalists who first saw and described the trees.
The final 14-volume work described 585 trees illustrated by C. E. Faxon’s 744 splendid plates. Once the last of the large folio volumes had been printed, a simplified, more affordable and portable volume was prepared in 1905, Manual of the Trees of North America, exclusive of Mexico.
John Muir wrote this of Sargent:
“While all his surroundings were drawing him toward a life of fine pleasure and the cultivation of the family fortune he chose to live laborious days in God’s forests, studying, cultivating the whole continent as his garden.”
Upon the sublime pleasures of reading the Silva and conjuring America’s forests, Muir wrote:
“What sylvan scenery … can be more impressive than the billowy Appalachian forests … compared with forests of Cereus giganteus, blooming in the tremulous haze of hot deserts, the strange trees, but little more than fluted cylindrical trunks, leafless and almost branchless and motionless, standing apart on bare sunbeaten ground like architectural columns crowned with flowers … “