Saturday, April 30, 2016

arbor day with another friend of Crow

"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.


Sean Jeating said...


And interesting; I understood every word. :)

susan said...

I thought you'd enjoy that, Sean. I couldn't understand the words (unfortunate monolingual that I am), but I loved to see him in his woods. Only a 1000th part of what once was.

Tom said...

Regardless of the authenticity, or otherwise, of what has been said here, I found this post deeply appealing. There seems to be an insatiable need in humanity to tame and control, a need that goes beyond the satisfaction of our everyday requirements. When I looked at the face of Treebeard, I thought, "Yes, and we try to control God as well, so that we can put him in our back pockets."

susan said...

It's amazing to think that not many centuries ago deciduous forests covered almost the whole of central and western Europe. What little is left is precious and I'm happy Peter Wohlleben has made informing us part of his life's work.

I read Olaf Stapledon's 'Starmaker' this winter. It's filled with memorable quotes like this one:

“No visiting angel, or explorer from another planet could have guessed that this bland orb teemed with vermin, with world-mastering, self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.”

marja-leena said...

Amazing indeed. I am trying to recall the name of a film or program we saw some years ago on TV about just this, a marvellous underworld network between trees and how they communicate with each other as well as the organisms in the soil. It was filmed somewhere in our westcoast rainforests and left us in awe of nature, as well as horrified at mankind's destruction.

Ol'Buzzard said...

I have spent much of my life in the woods. I have transited the Okefenokee swamps in a canoe, and run the wild Allagash River in Maine back when it was really wild, nine years as a survival instructor with the Navy and eleven years in the bush villages of Alaska.

People that journey into the woods for a day or a few days on vacation don't disconnect; but when you live in the woods and spend time alone in the bush you know the woods are alive; not just with animal life but everything is living, and belongs there. It is wonderful to feel a belonging there.
the Ol'Buzzard

susan said...

It's certainly true, Marja-Leena, that among all the items of bad news that come to our attention these days whenever we attempt to keep up with real world happenings there are these gems about just how much is being learned about the real natural world. Despite my fears I can't help but entertain some hope that things are beginning to turn around as we gain more understanding of just how precious this planet and all its life forms actually are.

susan said...

I grew up in the countryside, OB, so I know what you mean. On the other hand, while I haven't had your long and deep union with the woods in my adulthood, I feel like I disconnected long ago. The memories remain strong and the wildlands are places where we can be most whole.

Jono said...

Wow! This is some very interesting information. Living in the forest gives me a chance to look at things a little differently and see what I can learn.

susan said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Jono. If only more people realized just how miraculous and magical is the world. :)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Indeed trees do communicate in many different ways in support your very interesting post as per this ABC program .
Dr Simard says her findings have implications for forestry practices that target old-growth trees. "We need to leave these legacy trees and let them send their messages into the soil to surrounding plants," she says."This will help the recovery of forests following disturbance such as logging or fire." Conserving fungal networks that help forests recover from disturbance could also prevent invasions by exotic species, which often compete with the endemic networks, she believes.
Best wishes

susan said...

That was very interesting, Lindsay, and may relate to the program Marja-Leena remembered having watched a few years ago. It's good to learn these things while we hope the lessons will prove advantageous for the forests, the creatures who depend on them and us.
All the best