The Hidden Life of Tress by Peter Wohlleben
Peter Wohlleben is a forester by profession, not a writer. But, his passion and knowledge of the trees he has helped preserve has translated into an extremely fascinating book on how trees communicate with and care for each other.
His many years of experience along with scientific evidence support many of the extraordinary discoveries that he shares with us in this book. We have all probably learnt to classify a tree as a ‘living thing’ , yet we continue to think of them as ‘objects’. Reading this book will open your eyes to a whole new world – full of living, breathing, nurturing and speaking trees. (Yes! Speaking! Tolkien's Ents came to mind )
Trees seem to be just like human beings – they communicate with other members of their species, support their young, they have memory, hearing and language. In fact a major discovery was made sometime in 1990 by American doctoral researcher, Suzanne Simmard, who found intricate underground networks of symbiotic fungi (mycorrhizae) that bind to the roots of plants which extend for miles and help trees exchange nutrients. Dubbing this network ‘wood wide web’, the journal Nature brought it to the attention of the world. Since then this fungal web has been the centre of attention of various scientists and researchers who are discovering surprising ways in which trees function.
According to Wohlleben, “The main reason we misunderstand tree, is because they are incredibly slow.” That is true. The entire lifespan of a tree is at least five times as long as ours. Most trees discussed by him in the book mature between 80-100 years! And they can live at least to be 500 years and many trees have been around for a much longer time than that.
“Trees are among the slowest-moving beings with which we share our world and changes in the natural forest are observable only over the course of many human generations.”
Hence, learning the language of trees is something you embark for a lifetime, and there is so much to learn! Each chapter in the book will reveal some aspect of trees that have been closely studied and observed over the years. Trees for instance are social beings, they share food with their own species and even at times nourish their competitors. That is because they realise that working together has its benefits. Even sick trees are supported and nourished until they recover.
How do trees communicate? Trees have an unusual communication system – scent. Apparently, when herbivores feed on the leaves, which the trees may h find harmful, then they secrete toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores. They even communicate this to the nearby trees, so that they too can be prepared. It is said to be a highly effective strategy which scientists have observed in the African savannah.
Further, he goes on to explain how trees store water for winter, procreate, adapt , migrate, pass on their genes and age gracefully. His passion and love to preserve forests in their natural habitat is something that resonates throughout the book. Though he talks about characteristics of trees native to Central Europe and North America, I started looking at trees in my own backyard in a different way. I began to understand that every tiny organism, be it visible or invisible, has a mighty role to play in the environment around me.
As Peter Wohlleben himself puts it, “only people who understand trees are capable of protecting them”. His book will be an eyeopener for everyone who reads it and our walks amongst trees will never be the same again
Every individual can become better at learning about trees and it is merely a simple step away. I also came across this inspiring documentary 'Forest Man' - which unfolds the story of Jadav Payeng who has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single-handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC. His forest has transformed what was once a barren wasteland, into a lush oasis.