THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World, 2016. 

Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, where he runs an environmentally friendly woodland and works for the return of primeval forests. He is the author of numerous books about trees. The following are excerpts from this stunning book, stunning because of its revelations about the amazing abilities of trees to send messages to other trees, to provide food and other support to neighboring trees, develop smart defense mechanisms and to share them. It’s almost as if trees have minds and feelings!

As we know during this critical time of climate change, one of the most effective means of survival is through the enormous capabilities of trees and forests to sustain life on this planet. We must learn all we can about these abilities and harness them in sustainable ways for a healthy planet.

Excerpts

A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. 

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. 

p 4

Trees, it turns out, have a completely different way of communicating: they use scent. … The acadia trees that were beig eaten gave off a warning gas that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that a crisis was at hand. Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves.

pp 6-7

Trees don’t rely exclusively on dispersal in the air, for if they did, some neighbors would not get wind of the danger. Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has discovered that they also warn each other using chemical signals sent through the fungal network around their root tips, which operate no matter what the weather. …

The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers. Science has adopted a term first coined by the journal Nature for Dr. Simard’s discovery of the “wood wide web” pervading our forests.  [S.W. Simard et al, “Net Transfer of Carbon between Tree Species with Shared Ectomycorrhizal Fungi,” Nature 388 (1997): 579-82.

pp 9-11

A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it.

p 17

The forest is really a giant carbon dioxide vacuum that continually filters out and stores this component of the air.

p 93

If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.

p 98

Forest air is the epitome of healthy air. …The air truly is considerably cleaner under the trees, because the trees act as huge air filters. Their leaves and needles hang in a study breeze, catching large and small particles as they float by. 

p 221

Forests differ a great deal from one another depending on the species of trees they contain. Coniferous forests noticeably reduce the number of germs in the air, which feels particularly good to people who suffer from allergies. 

p 222

The real question is whether we help ourselves only to what we need from the forest ecosystem, and — analogous to our treatment of animals — whether we spare the trees unnecessary suffering when we do this. 

That means it is okay to use wood as long as trees are allowed to live in a way that is appropriate to their species. And that means that they should be allowed to fulfill their social needs, to grow in a true forest environment on undisturbed ground, and to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. And at least some of them should be allowed to grow old with dignity and finally die a natural death.

pp 242-243

We encourage you to learn about trees and forests by reading this book. Another book, in comic-book style for young and not-so-young readers, is discussed in our next post.

***