The Secret Life Of Trees

Do trees have a secret life that we rarely think about? Find out in this blog by Astrid Hamm, a consultant in the fields of Urban Forestry and Urban Greening currently working in Germany.

Forests are communities of trees. Most people look at trees as woody plants that provide us with timber. Many people enjoy their recreational aspects, landscape aesthetics, and their positive influences on human health and well-being. In recent years, our professional focus has moved on to numerous ecosystem services and environmental benefits trees provide to our society, such as reducing air pollution and storm water attenuation.

We are Urban Forestry professionals – but do we really know enough about trees? Are there different aspects to trees and urban forests that we haven’t explored yet?

Trees are the second-largest, but above-ground largest living beings on earth. Do we ever consider that trees may be able to communicate and interact with each other? Do trees have a ‘social life’? Do they care for other trees? Is there such a thing as ‘sympathy’, preference or dislike among trees and tree species – is it possible that a tree “can’t smell” (= dislikes) another tree? Can trees pass on their ‘knowledge’ to others? Do they communicate with each other, or even with us? Is it possible for trees to interact, even though they are fixed to their location?

In his book “The Secret Life Of Trees” German Forester Peter Wohlleben writes about a wide variety of ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ research studies from all over the world, looking at trees from different perspectives. He describes the forest as a community where strong trees support weaker ‘community members’. Similar to human society, a natural forest seems to work along the principle ‘together we are strong’. According to various studies, trees interact and communicate with each other in several ways. They also take care of each other and look after their offspring, as well as nursing the ‘elderly’. If there are pest attacks or other dangers approaching, they will ‘warn’ other trees by releasing gaseous odors. Similar to humans, they don’t like to interact with just any other tree. So is there such a thing as “tree sympathy”? Do trees develop “feelings”, such as compassion, like and dislike?

Wohlleben wants us to acknowledge trees as living beings they are. He presents scientific findings in his own language, comprehensible for everyone. He passionately campaigns for a different – more humane – attitude towards trees as social ‘creatures’ with their own needs and requirements as members of a forest community.

So maybe Urban Foresters have to learn much more about ‘the secret life of trees’ beyond our current knowledge to effectively promote urban forests.

‘The Secret Life Of Trees’ will be translated into English in autumn 2016, after being a top ten bestseller in the category “non-fiction” in Germany 2015.

This book is an appeal to everyone that we can still learn a lot about and from trees.

Wohlleben Cover

This blog post is authored by Astrid Hamm and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition. Join in to win a free conference package! Want to learn more about Astrid’s work? Visit her project Citybranching/Stadtverzwingungen!