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.
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.
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-death 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”.
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.