"They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the 'Wood Wide Web' – and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots."
According to a New York Times article these are just a few of the secrets that Peter Wohlleben, a German forest ranger and best-selling author, has learned about trees. Upon coming across a pair of soaring beeches in the forest, Wohlleben, the author of the runaway hit book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries From a Secret World,” observes:
“These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light. Sometimes," he adds, "pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”
Wohlleben’s work could be changing the way any people think about trees. Putting the German forest back in the spotlight, he is making the case for a popular reimagination of trees - which the modern world seems to think of as 'organic robots', designed for little more than to supply us humans with oxygen and wood. With a mix of scientific research and his own observations - the 51-year old Wohlleben studied forestry and has worked in the forest since 1987 - the man who speaks for the trees does so in decidedly anthropomorphic terms. Which has irritated some German biologists who question his use of language to describe life in the forest. But Wohlleben says this is exactly the point. “I use a very human language. Scientific language removes all the emotion, and people don’t understand it anymore. When I say, ‘Trees suckle their children,’ everyone knows immediately what I mean.”
After years working for the state forestry administration in Rhineland-Palatinate and then as a forester managing 3,000 acres of woods near Cologne, he began to understand that contemporary practices were not serving the trees, or those who depend on them, very well. “By artificially spacing out trees, the plantation forests that make up most of Germany’s woods ensure that trees get more sunlight and grow faster, but creating too much space between trees can disconnect them from their networks, damaging some of their inborn resilience mechanisms.”
Now this I really liked and I'm sure you'll understand why when I tell you that after researching alternative approaches to forestry he began implementing some revolutionary concepts - replacing heavy machinery with horses, stopping the use of insecticides and allowing the woods to become wilder. The forest went from loss to profit in two years.
"I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
~ Dr. Seuss
Now trees have found another articulate spokesperson working in the German forest. Crow says he hopes this may be the beginning of the return of the Great Forests of earlier times. They would be a vast improvement.