The Hidden Life of Trees
What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World
Peter Wohlleben; Foreword by Tim Flannery
978-1-77164-248-4 | 9781771642484
1-77164-248-3 | 1771642483
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“A paradigm-smashing chronicle of joyous entanglement that will make you acknowledge your own entanglement in the ancient and ever-new web of being.”—Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast
Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Includes a Note From a Forest Scientist, by Dr.Suzanne Simard
From Chapter 6 / Slowly Does It
Young trees love to grow quickly, and it would be no problem at all for them to put on about half a meter in height per season. Unfortunately, their own mothers are not on board with this. They overshadow their offspring with their enormous crowns and, together with other adult trees, they form a thick roof over the forest floor. This roof lets only 3 percent of the sunlight reach the ground and, therefore, their children’s leaves. Three percent—that’s practically nothing. With that amount of sunlight a tree can achieve only enough photosynthesis to keep its own body from dying. There’s nothing left to fuel a decent drive upward or even a thicker trunk. And rebellion against this strict upbringing is impossible, because there’s no energy to sustain it. Upbringing, you ask? Yes, indeed, this is a pedagogical method undertaken to ensure the well-being of the little ones. And I didn’t just come up with the term out of the blue—it’s been used by foresters for generations to refer to this kind of behavior.
The method used in this upbringing is light deprivation. But what purpose does this restriction serve? Don’t parents want their offspring to become independent as quickly as possible? Trees, at least, would answer this question with a resounding no, and recent science backs them up. Scientists have determined that slow growth when the tree is young is a prerequisite if a tree is going to live to a ripe old age. As people, we easily lose sight of what is truly old for a tree, because modern forestry targets a maximum age of 80 to 120 years before plantation trees are cut down and turned into cash.
Under natural conditions, trees that old are no thicker than a pencil and no taller than a person. Thanks to slow growth, their inner wood cells are tiny and contain almost no air. That makes them flexible and resistant to breaking in storms. Even more important is their heightened resistance to fungi, which have difficulty spreading through the tough little trunks. Injuries are no big deal for such trees, because they can easily wall off the wounds—that is to say, close them—by growing bark over them before any decay occurs.
A good upbringing is necessary for a long life, but sometimes the patience of the tree children is sorely tested. “My” small beech trees, which have by now been waiting for at least eighty years, are standing under mother trees that are about two hundred years old. In human terms, that would be equivalent to forty years old. The stunted trees can probably expect another two hundred years of twiddling their thumbs before it is finally their turn. The wait time is, however, made bearable. Their mothers are in contact with them through their root systems, and they pass along sugar and other nutrients. You might even say, they are soothing their babies.