Here’s an ancient idea: trees are sentient, social beings that communicate, recognize family members, learn and remember, adjust their behaviour and support each other through hard times. It’s an idea that speaks to the mystical within us, an idea we once learned, through myth, fable or aboriginal spirituality, and then unlearned, through religion or science. And now we can learn it all over again, in a way that turns the world around us into a place that’s new and exciting, but also comforting and familiar.
German forester Peter Wohlleben has pulled together two decades of scientific research and a lifetime of observing and tending the forest to explain in simple terms that yes, it’s true, trees have intelligence and feelings, they can demonstrate intra-species friendship, and experience pain and fear. Wohlleben, already a well-known author in his native land, has vaulted onto international best-seller lists with The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World
, the first of his books to be translated into English. In Canada, the book is published by Greystone Books in partnership with the David Suzuki Institute.
There’s an important Canadian connection: One of the scientists who has blazed a trail of understanding through the forest is Suzanne Simard, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia. In a contribution to Wohlleben’s book, Simard describes how, in the early 1990s, while searching for clues to the remarkable fertility of the inland temperate forests of the Pacific north-west, she unearthed a constellation of fungi linking many tree species. The discovery was the result of noticing that Douglas fir seedlings in clear-cut plantations declined when paper birch volunteers were weeded out. “This pattern of premature death had been concerning me for some time,” she writes. “The loss of synergy between broad-leaved trees and conifers, it turns out, was a concern of Peter’s, too. Across the forests of Europe, planting and weeding to create clean rows has been practiced for centuries.” Read more