The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World
by Peter Wohlleben
Published by Greystone Books, 2016.
I guarantee that after reading Peter Wohlleben’s bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, you will never look at a forest in the same way. A German forester, Peter has spent his life roaming around forests studying and caring for trees. He has carefully crafted this treatise on his findings, that while backed by scientific research, appeals to a much broader audience. His descriptions are vivid and beautiful. It is tender in its approach, with Wohlleben talking about trees almost as if they were close family members.
He describes trees as social entities — living beings that communicate with one another via an underground network of fungi. Knowing that there is strength in numbers, they alert one another to threats via an invisible emission of gases and struggle to keep weaker neighbors alive by pumping food through their roots. There is evidence that trees can count, learn and even remember. They nurture young saplings, and keep nutrients flowing through 500 year old tree stumps. Some are so interconnected, that like an elderly married couple, when one dies, the other follows shortly thereafter. Like a tribe, trees protect their own kind, detecting and treating rivals with brute force.
In fact at times, Wohlleben’s anthropomorphic approach to trees made me feel a bit uncomfortable. The notion of trees ‘suckling their young’ or experiencing pain and ‘nursing their neighbors’ makes me cringe as I sit in front of my fire watching the flames consume a once living creature. Did that log in my fireplace scream upon its death? Did its demise, for my own pleasure and warmth, leave another adolescent tree orphaned and at risk? I shudder at the thought.
And yet, it is this sensitive approach that makes this book, and its teachings, so accessible to so many people. Understandably Wohlleben’s style won’t appeal to everyone. But the findings contained within are both fascinating and relevant in our world where trees are often viewed from an economic standpoint, rather than a life force. Perhaps it will not only change the way you view forests, but the way in which our society manages them. After all, trees deserve a chance at a long and productive life — creating their own communities and raising their young. If you weren’t in awe of nature before, this book will certainly make you think twice about the beauty that surrounds us. Enjoy.
Click for the recipe that I have paired with this book review: Brussel Sprouts Roasted with Walnuts and Lemon.
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