Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I loved this book. I would have to say it is the best book on the science of plants that I have ever read.

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Wohlleben, a forest manager in Germany, feels an intimate connection with trees, and he lets you share in that intimacy. What’s more, Wohlleben helps his readers to see trees in a fundamentally different way.

Most interesting to me is how trees, or at least the beeches and other species that the author focuses on, are really social beings. Trees are healthiest and most long-lived when they live in close physical association with other trees. The practice of “thinning” trees to let them grow to their full potential size is actually harmful, according to the author.

In fact, trees have their own form of social security through which resources (in this case, the sugar produced by photosynthesis) are equally distributed among members of the forest community. (Trees are socialists! Someone call Sean Hannity!) They do this through the “wood wide web”, a network of fungi that connects the roots of trees, facilitating redistribution and a kind of communication as well.

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Peter Wohlleben

Trees also provide mutual aid to each other in the case of physical injury or attack by fungi or insects.

This book made me rethink my view of trees as passive, almost inanimate objects. In fact, trees are, as individuals and in groups, active players in a life-and-deathย  drama. People, myself included, are usually blind to the drama because it unfolds in tree time, which is to say very, very slowly. As Wohlleben says, “trees live life in the slow lane”.

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Trees must divide their energy between growth and producing the chemical weapons that keep insects, fungi, and other dangers at bay. Wohlleben has interesting things to say about these compounds, or phytoncides, which have antibiotic qualities. The phytoncides of conifers are especially pungent, and are the source of the unique scent of evergreen forests.

I could go on, but I’ll just conclude that The Hidden Life of Trees is a fun and fascinating read.

55 Comments on “Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

  1. We just read this book here at the nursery as well! great book, amazing understanding of the inter-connectedness of trees and the forest. A must-read for gardeners and naturalists and everyone else!

  2. I’ve heard of this book, it is an international bestseller. It sounds fascinating. You’ve convinced me, I have ordered it.

  3. I saw a program on Canadian TV on this subject. Fascinating! Some spruce trees do not produce seed cones In some years in an attempt to starve squirrels and reduce their population.

  4. Thanks for the good review.

    And thanks for the photo of one of our beautiful “Autumn Blaze” maples in front of Elm Tree Village. As you must have seen, we lost one of our four remaining elms last year, but are planning a replacement, probably with another Autumn Blaze. They are gorgeous in full color.

  5. I haven’t read it (need to!), but I’ve heard people reference it in presentations. All that mycorrhizal and bacterial life under the soil, and the chemical interactions–fascinating stuff!

  6. Hello Jason, I think it’s only recently that we discovered most of the action is below ground when it comes to trees in the way they interconnect through fungi. It’s difficult to appreciate and understand as it’s just not visible. I might just have to start a Wishlist as I keep saying, “oh, I must look into that sometime”.

  7. I think I have seen this book played out in a documentary on tv. It is fascinating. I have a book similar to read _The Living Forest_ by Joan Maloof.

  8. I heard this book reviewed on the radio last year and thought it sounded intriguing but I’ve yet to read it. It really does raise some fascinating points. There’s still so much we don’t know about the effects of bacteria, viruses and fungi on all living things.

  9. I read this a while ago and agree, it is a wonderful book. Also try Urban Forests by Jill Jonnes and The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell. I could go on. Is it obvious my favorite plant is trees?

  10. I’ve heard about this book, and now you’ve convinced me to get a copy. I love the idea of how connected they are, and that they kind of tree socialists….we have so much to learn from the world around us. I hope our apple tree will forgive us for trimming it, but to have a tree in suburban without trimming is impossible.

  11. This book reminds me of an article that ended with a quote from a scientist stating that plants are just really slow animals. The community aspect of trees is new to me though and fascinating!

  12. This was a very enjoyable post to read. Maybe this is why I always mourn when we have to remove a tree from the property. We’ve taken three down in the last few years because they all were in danger of coming down in a storm. Even knowing that, I felt like I lost an old friend.

  13. I received this book as a Christmas gift and am going very slowly (not quite tree time) and savoring every word.

  14. This has been on best seller lists here for over 12 months now and I still haven’t got a copy! Thanks for your review – it has encouraged me to put it on my reading list. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. This sounds like a must read! I recently watched Judy Dench and the mysterious life of trees, a stunning production. I was spellbound.xxx

  16. I’m still working my way through The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell but I have this one too and look forward to reading it (thanks for reminding me!). I have always felt a personal connection to my trees and I think my Redbud knows I love it. It makes perfect sense that trees are connected to each other, when trees have symbiotic relationships with other life forms.

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