The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a fascinating read, an absolute must read for anyone interested in natural history/trees/gardening. The author has worked in Germany as a forester for decades and his observations are supplemented by lots of research from scientists around the world.
I must admit that I’ve always been squeamish when it comes to pruning and cutting back trees and plants as I’ve long thought that it can’t be a nice experience for these living entities, and it turns out that I was correct. But there’s a lot more going on than even I suspected. Apparently trees can communicate with each other via their roots, and they even support each other when any trees in the vicinity are in need of extra care. They can send extra nutrients via their roots to those in need, even to different species, they sound more generous spirited than many humans. It has been discovered that the ends of roots have tiny brain-like nodules, it sounds to me like there’s an awful lot about trees still to be discovered. When they are under attack from pests they can signal a warning to nearby trees and that makes them deploy a chemical that makes their leaves unpalatable to the pests.
He goes on to explain why trees planted by humans often end up struggling to survive, compared with the natural plantations that have developed over hundreds of years. Without the vital nutrients that build up in the soil naturally over the years it’s difficult for the trees to survive and grow as they should. Trees like to be in communities, most of them thrive in family groups and it seems they have personalities of their own just as people do. Some give up the ghost in adversity whilst others are more determined and fight off attacks.
It was a surprise to me that beech trees are thuggish, often planting themselves close to other species and then overtaking them in growth causing their eventual death by shading them out and grabbing most of the water. I think this might happen in Germany where the author is a forester and beech forests seem to be common. In Britain they are more commonly used as specimen trees I think, often not too close to other trees – unless they killed them all a hundred years or so ago!
Inevitably beasties, fungi and viruses are wreaking havoc on trees all over the world, in fact when you realise how many dangers there are for trees it seems quite amazing that any of them survive to a great age at all.
Trees scream apparently, which unnerves me, especially as the local council here seems to be determined to cut down any tree which isn’t in perfect condition, ignoring the fact that they often overcome their problems.
Surprise surprise – it seems that many of the processes carried out by the forestry/logging companies in forests do much more harm than good. But I was absolutely shocked when the author mentioned that even he might be causing harm as he visits multiple forests on a daily basis – without even changing his footwear between visits!!
I know that botanic gardens in the UK have thick disinfectant mats that visitors have to walk through before getting into the gardens, in an effort to keep viruses at bay. It might seem pointless when spores are just as likely to be wind blown or delivered via birds’ feathers, but you have to try to do anything you can to keep them out.
I know I first read about this one in the Guardian Review but I decided I had to read it after Stefanie at So Many Books had so enjoyed reading it, you can read her thoughts here.
I borrowed this book from the library, I’ve had to wait seven months to get it although I was only the third person to borrow it, so someone must have hung on to it for months. But what enraged me was that one of those previous readers had turned down the page corners – often every three pages or so, I reckon that over a third of the pages have been disfigured in this way, and not just a teeny fold, often with the corner being folded right into the inner edge of the book!
Honestly, I don’t believe in capital punishment – but if I ever discover who did that ….. they’re for it!