Have you ever looked at a tree and wondered what life would be like from their point of view? Could trees possibly “sense” more than previously thought, and establish social networks with one another? According to one German researcher, the answer is clear—not only do trees sense and experience emotion, but they can also form close bonds much like a family.
Over the past decade, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has researched tree communication in a forest that he manages along the western parts of Germany in the Eifel Mountains.
Wohlleben’s research is published in his book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate.” After stumbling upon what he initially thought were mossy green stones, Wohlleben discovered a living tree stump that was felled over 400 years ago.
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“I found out that it was still living without any green leaf,” Wohlleben told Living on Earth, “and that seemed to be impossible because a tree is a living being which burns sugar in its cells, like we do.”
“…the only explanation was that this old stump was supported by its neighbors,” he added.
Wohlleben explained that a “wood wide web,” which consists of tree roots and fungal networks, enables “brain-like communications” to occur between the trees.
“Trees may recognize with their roots who are their friends, who are their families, where their kids are. Then they may also recognize trees that are not so welcome,” Wohlleben told The Guardian.
Additionally, “[trees] can feel pain, [and] have emotions, such as fear. Trees like to stand close together and cuddle. They love company and like to take things slow,” he said.
Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia (UBC), also tested theories on tree communication.
In an experiment, Simard and her team grew mother trees along with kin and foreign seedlings; they discovered that mother trees recognized their own kin.
“…it turns out they do recognize their own kin. Mother trees colonize their kin with bigger mycorrhizal networks. They send them more carbon below ground. They even reduce their own root competition to make elbow room for their kids. When mother trees are injured or dying, they also send messages of wisdom on to the next generation of seedlings…so trees talk,” Simard said in a TED talk.
Wohlleben, together with Simard, have produced a documentary called “Intelligent Trees,” which pools together decades of tree-communication research. Their findings may change the way we think about trees and plants.
Another study revealed nocturnal behaviors of trees where they would lift and lower their branches several times, cycling water and sugar, seemingly like a heartbeat.
“We detected a previously unknown periodic movement of up to 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) in cycles of two to six hours,” postdoctoral researcher András Zlinszky said in a statement.
“The movement has to be connected to variations in water pressure within the plants, and this effectively means that the tree is pumping. Water transport is not just a steady-state flow, as we previously assumed.”
Despite criticism into plant-communication research, it seems that the idea of talking plants and trees has fascinated many on both sides. It would be interesting though, if we were to “listen” in on tree conversations. What would we possibly hear? What would their take on the argument be?
Wohlleben believes his research proves the sentient nature of trees, which is at odds with understandings of modern science.
“Perhaps we have a little distance because scientists over the last 200 years have taught us that nature works without soul,” he added.