For love of Lanner: Trees of the Great Basin is an enduring treasure


A recent excursion put me, my sister Kate, and our cousin Joe amid the Jeffrey pines in Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness.

Jeffrey pines are enormous trees with deeply grooved plates of bark that smell like vanilla. A Jeffrey can surpass the height of 150 feet, the trunk can be five feet in diameter, and the tree will live 500 years.

Before going up to nearly 9,000 feet above sea level on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, I pulled one of my treasures off the bookshelf: Trees of the Great Basin: A Natural History, by Ronald M. Lanner. Although I don’t live in the Great Basin, much of Lanner’s book applies to California.

Screen shot 2018-04-06 at 10.19.00 AMMine is a review copy received from the University of Nevada Press upon publication in 1984. I’m always touched by the book’s beauty–not only the way it’s written but also the design and drawings by Christine Rasmuss.

The pages are beautiful, with type in Goudy Old Style on Mohawk Superfine paper. The product description on Mohawk’s site says, “Superfine inspires great design with its superb formation, lush tactility, archival quality and timeless appeal.”

Lanner 03I hadn’t noticed the lush tactility until now, but it will henceforth be impossible to get out of mind.

On Amazon, the highest asking price for Trees of the Great Basin is $167.10. Original price was $19.50. Not that I’d sell, but my copy is in average condition with no markings on the pages and a so-so cover. The paper has held up admirably.

The most interesting thing I learned in rereading the chapter on the Jeffrey pine–“another great, long-needled, yellow pine of the American West,” as Lanner puts it–is that it’s very closely related to the Ponderosa. But there are key differences in the color and stiffness of the needles, the color and fragrance of the bark, and the elevation of the preferred habitat.

Another important difference was discovered in the 19th century by those who tried to produce turpentine. Ponderosas yield an oleoresin that’s heavy on the terpenes. These are common in essential oils.

Jeffrey pines secrete normal heptane, a potent hydrocarbon.


“Normal heptane is highly explosive,” Lanner writes, “and back in the Civil War era, when turpentine was being distilled from Ponderosa pitch, one distiller learned the hard way about the disadvantages of confusing the identification of these yellow pine species. Occasional explosions continued into this century.”

At least the wood of the two species is similar.

Factoids like that are another reason I’ve treasured the book for 34 years.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading off into the junipers.




3 thoughts on “For love of Lanner: Trees of the Great Basin is an enduring treasure

  1. I remember a hike on the Pacific Coast Trail up around Mt. Lassen that we took in about 1989. My friend’s mother, Pat “Mamoo” Martin, accompanied us. She shared a wealth of information about the pine species along the trail. She identified the Sugar Pine, the Ponderosa and the Jeffrey pine, among many others, and she showed how you counted needles in each bundle to help identify the species. The cones and bark told the story too. I wish I remembered all the various pines, and I envy anyone who has an authoritive reference like yours. Many years later, I asked her about all the pine trees, but she didn’t remember them like she did then. But for all those years, I thought of her as the pine tree expert of Siskiyou County. Ha.

  2. My wife Christine (Rasmuss) and I were very pleased to read your blog about Trees of the Great Basin. I came to the University of Nevada Press in 1981 to manage the Great Basin Series, which had been underwritten by a generous grant, and Chris left her job as an illustrator for a big aerospace company in Silicon Valley and joined me shortly thereafter. We traveled all over the Great Basin, collecting live specimens for her to draw from at whatever motel we ended up in after the day’s adventures. I was able to use several fine photographers I had worked with when I supervised the Museum of Northern Arizona pubs department in the 1970s (John Running and Stephen Trimble), and we had enough production money to work with the best printers, binders, and typographers. Ron Lanier was a wonderful author to work with.

    Chris also designed and illustrated Shrubs of the Great Basin by Hugh Mozingo, and went on to illustrate a number of other natural history books for Texas A&M University Press, the University of Iowa Press, and Southern Illinois UP over the next twenty-five years, while holding down her day job as an illustrator for various departments at Texas A&M. I was very fortunate to spend over thirty years in scholarly book publishing, and served as the director of three university presses and several other publication departments. Of all the books I published over the years, I’ve always been proudest of Trees of the Great Basin.

    Best personal regards – Rick (aka John) Stetter

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