BELMONT, N.Y. — Recently I heard an interview on NPR with Peter Wohlleben, a German forest manager who has written a best-selling book called “The Hidden Life of Trees, What They Feel and How They Communicate”. He had spent over 20 years working for the Forestry Commission in Germany then left to use his ecologically founded ideas to manage a mature forest. As he put it, he wanted to utilize what the trees had taught him over those 20 years. It was a fascinating interview so I decided to order the book and it didn’t disappoint.
Originally the book was published in German where it quickly became a best-seller. This led to the publication of his book in 17 languages and it is now a best seller in many countries.
“The Hidden Life of Trees” has made as big an impact on my ecological thinking as did reading “Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy. Initially I thought it was too anthropomorphic in describing tree “mothers”, their “skin” and “brains”. However this was purposefully done so that the average person could understand his points. Each fact he brings out is well cited in the extensive Note section where the scientific research studies are cited. The book almost reads like a story and after reading the whole book you begin to realize a forest as an interactive community not just a bunch of trees sharing the same space.
I was amazed at the amount of learning and confirmation of things I was already aware of while reading this book. I spend a lot of time making observations in woods and forests while hiking, and this book gave an explanation for many of these observations. A few of the ideas that were brought out were:
– The difference between a mature (old growth) forest planted by nature and ones planted my man that are often a monoculture planted for commercial purposes. There is also a difference between how a tree grows in a forest and in an isolated landscape like in someone’s yard.
– The importance of soil microorganisms in the health of a forest and how this differs from trees planted in isolation as part of a landscape, park or street tree. Many of these microorganisms are particular to one species of tree. The web of life in nature is truly amazing!
– How extensively trees communicate and support each other both physically and nutritionally within the forest community. Young seedling trees actually have their growth suppressed by the more mature trees so they grow slowly and can be strong enough to mature once an older tree dies and opens up space in the canopy.
-The role of trees in climate and air quality. (I really understand this for the first time) It’s much more complex than taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.
Each chapter in the book covers a topic like the ones above along. The chapters have interesting names like: The Tree Lottery, Easy Does It, United We Stand – Divided We Fall and Tree School. I now have a totally different experience while in the woods observing the trees. I always wondered why trees blew in all different directions during a wind storm…now I know! You’ll have to read the book to find out).
A quote on the book jacket by author Hope Jahren says it all: “Soon after we begin to recognize trees for what they are – gigantic beings thriving against incredible odds for hundreds of years – we naturally come to ask, ‘How do they do it?’ This charming books tells how.”
— Lyn Chimera
Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Allegany County
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