The Hidden Life of Trees
DESCRIPTION: Intellectually, most people know that trees are alive: they grow, they reproduce, they even become ill and eventually die. But we tend to think of them as little more than objects. Certainly plants can't see or smell or taste or remember or communicate, can they? Recent research proves that they can do all of that, and more - or, at least, they can if humans haven't messed up their growing conditions, planting them in the wrong environment or cutting off the root networks they build beneath their forest homes or culling their elders before they can raise the next generation of giants. A European forester discusses the fascinating lives of trees and how doing better by our woodsy neighbors might be the key to our own long-term survival on Earth.
REVIEW: In truth, this might be better titled The Hidden Life of Trees and Fungus; one of the integral parts of a healthy forest is the symbiotic relationships the trees (and other plant life) develop with surprisingly vast and complex networks of fungus beneath the soil, networks that allow them to communicate information about water levels and pest outbreaks and other stresses and dangers, even enabling them to share food with ailing neighbors. A lack of appropriate fungus partners might well be responsible for failure of some trees to thrive, particularly when transplanted to unsuitable urban or suburban areas. The findings and observations Wohlleben reports (in easy-to-digest lay terms) are amazing, much of it overlooked until very recently due to our innate tendency to only see life on an animal level and not the inconceivably slow and strange timescale - centuries, even thousands of years - experienced by trees. Much of the research is so new it seems to raise more questions than answers; tests confirm that trees can learn, but nobody can agree just where memories are stored, or how, or even if they're stored in the tree itself or in the root or maybe even the fungus network where so much tree activity takes place. Trees are even responsible for the habitability of inland environments and possibly life in the seas, as well; without chains of forests from coasts to the interior, promoting evaporation and cloud formation, rain would never reach the middles of continents, and leaf litter in streams has proven to promote the growth of plankton, the very base of the oceanic food pyramid. One wonders just how much we have destroyed unknowingly in our long-term (mis)management of woodlands, and how our own future is (again) threatened by our inability to think beyond our own immediate lifespans and needs. The author offers hope for the future, as new awareness and laws attempt to turn the tide around, but when recovery takes forest-scale time - five hundred years, he estimates - one can't help despairing that we impatient apes, with our ever-changing minds and ever-changing political priorities, just aren't equipped to undo the damage we've done. (Even if it proves too late for us to change our ways, though, Wohlleben suggests that trees, with their timeless wisdom, may well endure to grow over our bones.) After reading this, I don't think I'll look at a tree the same way again...
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