Skip to content

The importance of hugging trees

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 2016, 272 pages.

This book got a lot of attention when it was published in German, in 2015, as Das geheime Leben der Bäume. Luckily we had to wait only a year for an English translation.

Though I believe that Wohlleben’s message about trees is well grounded in science and research, much of it also comes from his experience as a forester. It’s sometimes difficult to know just how metaphorical Wohlleben intends to be — for example, when he speaks of trees feeling pain, or of their experience or their character. But he is quite convincing: There is such a thing as tree behavior. If you observe tree behavior, then you must keep in mind that tree behavior is slow and requires years of observation, even if you do something brutal to a tree such as cut off a large limb or tear off some skin. In talking about the character of trees, he points out that individual trees (though the trees may be closely related genetically) may respond very differently to threats such as drought or an infestation of insects or fungus. It is as though individual trees make different judgments about when to start conserving water, or when to drop their leaves.

One of the most fascinating things that Wohlleben tells us about trees is the reach and power of their underground network, which involves not only the trees’ roots but also the mycelia of the many fungi that live underground in cooperation with the trees. This network can transmit messages about the forest environment (though slowly). And trees exchange water and nutrients with each other. Old trees “nurse” their offspring through their roots. Surviving trees sometimes keep the stumps of dead friends alive for many years. Sick trees get help from healthier neighbors. This altruism of trees makes sense, because all trees in a forest work together to preserve the forest environment — a canopy that catches 97 percent of the light, and where underneath the canopy everything is dark, moist, and friendly to fungi.

Wohlleben will leave you quite convinced that trees are sentient and intelligent in many ways, ways that are particular and appropriate to trees and their long lives (if left alone). Wohlleben also helps us understand how cruelly and stupidly we treat our trees and forests and the risks this poses to our ecosystems.

This book now takes its place among the works of other writers and thinkers who are leading us to what I believe is inevitable, assuming that we don’t destroy our planet. That is that all living things have natural rights, and that these rights must be protected by law.

This book is a must read.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *