The secret life of trees: part two

Children, with their special wisdom, recognize and accept trees as living beings with purposeful and deliberate behaviour

QUATHIASKI COVE, B.C. Dec. 7, 2016/ Troy Media/ – A different time scale explains in part why we have difficulty understanding the intelligence of trees.

We interpret events with reference to our human sense of normal. Comparatively, trees seem to respond slowly, their life cycles sometimes approaching millennia. In the words of German forester Peter Wohlleben, they “exceed the human attention span.” They feed on the raw material we call dirt and produce their energy by the perplexing process of photosynthesis.

As very different creatures, it’s not surprising we haven’t been able to understand trees.

Because trees are rooted in one place, they have their own ways to relate and communicate with their surroundings – ways that happen to be outside the range of our usual perception.

And why should they behave as we do? This expectation is one of our major shortcomings. Children, with their special innocent wisdom, recognize and accept trees as living beings with purposeful and deliberate behaviour, and so do Wohlleben and Suzanne Simard, a University of British Columbia forest ecologist.

The two scientists are discovering that forests are communities of trees, alive with marvellously sophisticated means of co-operation and communication.

In the beech forests of Germany, Wohlleben documents parent trees “nursing” their offspring. The young saplings, attempting to grow beneath the shadowed canopy with 97 per cent of the sunlight already consumed, are kept alive and healthy with sugars and nutrients provided by their parents through interconnecting root structures – “nursing their babies,” is Wohlleben’s expression. When the parents eventually die, the saplings are ready to succeed, the strong and able inheritors of the available space in the forest.

One tree caring for another makes scientists uncomfortable, particularly when the paradigm of competitiveness has been used to explain how trees and forests grow. But Wohlleben has evidence of trees sharing space and nutrition, of neighbours feeding sugars to nearby stumps to keep them alive. In a beech forest, he has examined the living stump of a tree that fell about 400 years ago, still alive from the sustenance provided from nearby trees. And you can find occasional fir stumps, fed for so long by neighbouring trees that the bark has grown up over the severed wood to heal the wound – the base of the amputated tree is still alive without a functioning trunk, branches or needles.

Science, as part of its effort to be objective, is averse to using words with emotional connotations. The behaviour in one category of living beings, particularly anthropomorphizing, is not to be confused with the behaviour in another. So our sensitive response to touch, sunlight, heat and water becomes, for trees, the technical terms of thigmotropism, heliotropism, thermotropism and hydrotropism.

But a response is a response. And behind the different words is the implication that trees have some kind of sentience or awareness. This, of course, is the point being made by Wohlleben and Simard.

Wohlleben is not some unrealistic dreamer. His experience comes from being a forest ranger in Germany, where he manages a forest in Hummel, confirming the claims in his book [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]The Hidden Life of Trees[/popup]. And Simard, the eminent forest ecologist, has created her own stir in academic circles on the same subject.

Because they are willing to examine trees from a broader perspective, they can see an intelligence so many of us miss.

Part 1: [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]A vibrant intelligence deep within the forest[/popup]

Part 3: [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]The wood wide web: nature’s underground Internet[/popup]

Ray Grigg is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. Ray is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

Ray is a Troy Media [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]contributor[/popup]. [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”1″] Why aren’t you?[/popup]

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