1 May 2019

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Posted by Callan Bentley

Peter Wohlleben is a forester, managing a forest in Germany. Over decades among the trees, he has had major insights into the “inner lives” of the trees, and uses this book to collate them and share them with a wider audience. The book opens with an anecdote: he walks by some moss-covered lumps in the forest, and peels up the moss to see what he expects will be “stones” underneath. He is surprised to find wood instead, and realizes that this ring of woody protuberances is actually a set of remnants of the outer diameter of an ancient tree, the middle having long since rotted away. On this observation, he estimates that the tree itself was felled centuries ago — but here’s the kicker: the living tissue of the tree survived, bearing the green signature of chlorophyll. Though this ancient giant had been felled generations ago, the stump had been kept alive ever since. It turns out that trees communicate and share food underground, via their root systems. This “dead” tree’s community of neighbors had sustained it for centuries. That’s amazing, and it’s just the start. Wohlleben leads his readers on a fascinating journey into the forest, viewing trees as thoughtful beings who live on an utterly different timescale from our own frenzied lives. The subtitle of the book is: “What they Feel, How they Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World,” which gives you a sense of the content as well as the author’s attitude. What; they “feel?” Yes! Trees feel, and they can count, and they hurt, and they wait patiently. Never have I read something that successfully anthropomorphizes trees so well. I live in a forest, and I’m going to think about it more deeply and with more satisfaction and curiosity after assimilating Wohlleben’s ideas. Very interesting stuff; very well written. Recommended.