Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World (The Mysteries of Nature Series #1), by Peter Wohlleben (author), Jane Billinghurst (translator), Mike Grady (narrator)

Harper Collins, September 2016

We have a natural tendency to think of trees as, although clearly living, largely inanimate. After all, they neither move nor make sounds, except due to the wind blowing through their branches. Trees are lovely,and useful, but they're just there.

Yet in the last couple of decades, science has been piecing together a different story. Trees whose leaves are attacked by insects produce a chemical to make their leaves taste bad and ward off the attack; that doesn't seem surprising. But the trees also release a chemical into the air, in response to which the neighboring trees also produce the chemical to make their leaves unpleasant for the insects; they prepare for the attack before the insects reach them. The first tree attacked has warned its neighbors of the coming assault. That seems very surprising.

Peter Wohlleben is a forester in Germany, and gives us here a highly readable account of what we've learned about trees and their forest neighbors in the last few decades, only some of which has made its way into popular awareness. Trees in a variety of ways work together to create their own micro-environment, control pests, and share resources to create healthier local groups and forests. Isolated trees have a harder time, without nearby, often related trees. They may actually grow faster--in their first few decades. Faster growth doesn't mean better wood, though, and in the long run, these trees tend to have less dense wood, more vulnerable to parasites, and to run through their available resources much sooner. They tend to die substantially earlier than trees of the same species in a forest.

Wohlleben gives an excellent account of what we now know about trees and forests, and how we can use this knowledge to have healthier forests, both better for environmental health overall, and more economically productive than under our longstanding forestry practices. At times it's an account that goes right to the edge of woowoo, but it's also an account solidly grounded in both science and practical experience.


I bought this audiobook.

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