A short while back, I wrote about the Wood Wide Web, the secret universe that plays out below one’s feet in forests. It is a political world, an underground economy built on a symbiotic relationship between fungi and trees, and between trees themselves.
In Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, that world comes to life. Trees, he says, feel pain (even scream), raise their children, and help other sick trees by providing nutrients through their roots.
When predators (e.g., insects) begin feasting on tree bark or leaves, trees are able to defend themselves. “Oaks, for example, carry bitter, toxic tannins in their barks and leaves,” says Wohlleben. Trees recognize when they are under attack and release these chemicals, which can kill insects or leave a terrible taste in their mouths.
Trees communicate. Some trees can even identify certain animals by their saliva, mount a defense, and warn other trees using scents. In a drought, trees will send out an ultrasonic scream, a popping sound.
The Hidden Life of Trees is a vivid world, making it impossible to see trees the same way again. It is a reminder that life is far more complex than we sometimes think of it. Wohlleben’s book is a short—and easy to read—scientific love letter to trees. Like a forest hike, it sometimes wanders a bit, and even sometimes feels too anthropomorphized.
But then again, who am I to judge? I find myself apologizing to flowers when I accidentally step on them.
Interview with Wohlleben