Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben. Greystone Books, 2015. Reviewed by Laura Clark for the Fall 2017 edition of the Trail Times newsletter.

Deep into a difficult trail race, I always seem to recall this common quote: “I ran by the trees as if they were standing still.” This is, of course, meant to comment on the fact that my death-march legs were at least faster than the steady trees of the forest. For we all know that trees are stationary beings. Or are they?

Read Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, and you will come to doubt that surface assumption. In the early 1990’s Dr. Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, discovered the underground web of roots, fungi and electrical impulses that enable family groups of trees to communicate with each other, care for sick members and parent young saplings.

In plain, wonder-filled language Peter Wohlleben, a manager for primeval German forests, also explains how trees warn their neighbors of an impending insect attack so they can be ready with the proper defense secretion to kill the invaders. Not only that, but the health of a community depends on compatible tree species that will fill in when the weather is less than idea for a particular family group.

And trees do move in a sense as they send their seedlings out on the wind to create the next generation. With our miniscule lifespan we hardly notice. But trees, who live for thousands of year, have plenty of time.
Although not mentioned in this work, it is but a short jump to wonder about cauliflower. Does a cauliflower communicate with its garden mates? And what would this mean for those who choose vegetarianism as a way of preserving life? Food for thought.

At any rate, read this book and the next time you are running alone in the forest and imagine a tree speaking to you, pause to reconsider. Perhaps the fairy tales were more reality than myth.

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