By now you've probably heard something about Peter Wohlleben and his amazing book, "The Hidden Life of Trees."
In case you haven't, read on.
Wohlleben, a German forester of many years experience, has topped best-seller lists with his contention that our commonly held understanding of trees and their networks of interaction paints a distorted picture of the truth.
Trees, says Wohlleben, are sentient beings, which means they are capable of sense impressions and feelings. Not only do they have measurable reactions to various stimuli, they also have ways of defending themselves from the onslaught of predators such as attacking insects or bacteria.
More surprisingly, he claims that trees are social beings, communicating with one another in a variety of ways, including widespread networks of root hairs and an enormous tangle of fungal connections, all of which are hidden beneath the earth.
He claims, in fact, that trees can distinguish their own roots from the roots of other species and even from the roots of related individuals, and that they are capable of sharing food with their neighbors, even if the neighbors are competing for the same sunlight and water.
Why? The reasons, he writes, "are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old."
In order for this to happen, the community must remain intact at all costs. "If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer."
This cooperation takes many forms, some of which parallel our own experience. According to Wohlleben, researchers now believe that well-established forests include what might be called "mother" trees, older and larger than others, and evidently looking after the growth and well-being of the young. They do this in a variety of ways, including sending extra sugar to struggling youngsters via their root systems, regulating the amount of sunlight that reaches the young (in order to keep them from growing too quickly) and giving off warning news about invading insects, drought and other dangers. Canadian forest researcher Dr. Suzanne Simard refers to this ability of trees to share information as the "wood wide web."
Given the fact that most of us have been taught from infancy that vegetative forms of life such as trees and shrubs are basically inert "things" that have no consciousness and little value until we cut them into usable pieces or cook them into paper products, the ideas that Peter Wohlleben puts forth have met with predictable opposition. But much of what he writes has also struck a chord with many thousands of folks all over the world.
I urge you to read the book and see what the fuss is all about.