Tony's Reviews > The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
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My father’s father was a legendary grafter of trees. So I was told. He died a few years before I sprouted so I never knew him. But my father, who had a sense of wonder at the way things worked, learned the art; and so, I was able to see a peach tree that had one branch full of plums; and he grafted a white dogwood to a pink one. No reason. Just to show he could. This technique, like many mechanical things, was not passed on to the next generation.

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Dr. Suzanne Simard, who helped discover the maternal instincts in trees, describes mother trees as dominant trees widely linked to other trees in the forest through their fungal-root connections. These trees pass their legacy on to the next generation and exert their influence in the upbringing of the youngsters. “My” small beech trees, which have by now been waiting for at least eighty years, are standing under the mother trees that are about two hundred years old – the equivalent of forty-year-olds in human terms. The stunted trees can probably expect another two hundred years of twiddling their thumbs before it is finally their turn. The wait time is, however, made bearable. Their mothers are in contact with them through their root systems, and they pass along sugar and other nutrients. You might even say they are nursing their babies.

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My father, the occasional grafter, decided to get a mimosa tree. This was odd because I grew up in a place not known for its ornamentals. The houses were just a few feet apart and backyards tended to be repositories for rusting junk, chained dogs and old tires. It was not a sweet-smelling place. But our backyard had a mimosa tree as a centerpiece. Which was pretty cool for a pre-adolescent boy, because you could do this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDzNe...

Eventually, the mimosa got sick and died. A life lesson. It was removed. It was then my father decided he would like to grow figs.

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Mimosas are tropical creeping herbs. They make particularly good research subjects, because it is easy to get them a bit riled up and they are easier to study in the laboratory than trees are. When they are touched, they close their feathery little leaves to protect themselves. Gagliano designed an experiment where individual drops of water fell on the plants’ foliage at regular intervals. At first, the anxious leaves closed immediately, but after a while, the little plants learned there was no danger of damage from the water droplets. After that, the leaves remained open despite the drops. Even more surprising for Gagliano was the fact that the mimosas could remember and apply their lesson weeks later, even without further tests.

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I love trees, but I can not cut a 7-iron:



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A marine chemist at the Hokkaido University discovered that leaves falling into streams and rivers leach acids into the ocean that stimulate the growth of plankton, the first and most important building block in the food chain. More fish because of the forest? The researcher encouraged the planting of more trees in coastal areas, which did, in fact, lead to higher yields for fisheries and oyster growers.

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Once upon a time, when I still worked, some no-goodnik lumber company decided to play fast and loose with the language in some ancient deeds and snuck onto a portion of the Allegheny National Forest – or as much as you can sneak while operating very large excavating machinery – and helped themselves to a heaping harvest of very tall, very old timber. It became my responsibility to see what could be done about that. This was very different from my usual assignments, and I’ve always liked different. The deeds went back to William Penn and were a twisted tale of courses and metes and bounds.

As part of the investigation, I was invited into the forest. It was early May. The guy from the Department of Natural Resources said it was an active time for timber rattlesnakes so be sure to wear high boots. You know, having fun with city slickers. But, oh, my boots are well-traveled and the investigator who came with me was a seasoned hunter. There was one more person to complete our foursome: a forester. It is the forester that I want to talk about.

The forester looked very much like the character actor, Richard Farnsworth:



Only with a beaten-up old ball cap from some feed company on his head. Kindly, yet not smiling, his face was worn and his eyes – HIS EYES – were sad, yet hopeful. Which is hard to do. He would not know how to lie.

We trudged through the woods to where the loss and damage was. For you can’t remove large trees from the forest with heavy equipment without nicking other trees. The forester showed us the slashes to the trunks and then, explaining how the injury would eventually kill the tree, he circled the circumference with his arms. He was a different kind of tree hugger.

The tour done, we repaired to a truck stop for lunch. Big-boy, buffet style. We piled our plates except for the forester, who took only a vegetable or two, citing a troublesome stomach, something chronic. The other two fellows were talkers, and they were trying to top each other with one wild anecdote after the other. The forester said nothing, but was looking at me, I guess trying to get my measure.

The other two guys went back to the buffet, I thought maybe to set some kind of record. The forester and I continued to sit across the table from one another. He kept looking at me even though we didn’t speak. It dawned on me that he was from the forest and I was not. But surely there is a common ground.

And after many minutes, his eyes never leaving mine, he swallowed, and said, “You full-leaf down there yet?” And I looked him square and replied, “Everything but the oaks.” And he paused, ever so slightly, and then gave me just the slightest hint of a nod. And it was as if I had passed some test, some test that meant more than all the tests academia and suits and skirts could ever devise.

And I will remember that conversation until the day I die.
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Reading Progress

June 3, 2017 – Started Reading
June 3, 2017 – Shelved
June 8, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)

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message 1: by Kathy (new)

Kathy This is really a beautiful and touching contribution to this site. Thank you for this gift.


message 2: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I think I need to read this one asap. I am desperately trying to make a chestnut tree grow in my garden. And it will need cheering to survive the harsh clinate for which I have destined it. It was in a pot in the kitchen over the prolonged winter (until mid-May), but now it is quite lonely outside.


message 3: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala So good to read, Tony.
I couldn't help being reminded of a giant ent from Lord of the Rings. I could just hear it saying in a gruff fatherly tone, "You full-leaf down there yet, son?"
(view spoiler)


Elyse  Walters Tony .. your review is sooooo beautiful!!! I was touched reading your story!!! Lovely!!


Elyse  Walters PS. Our Mimosa Tree in our yard is huge and thriving. - as is our Norway Maple... our Walnut ( huge) .. and several other Maple trees ...our garden is huge - and we spend a lot of time working on it ... I LOT TREES... but didn't personally connect to this book as much as I had hoped. But I spend a lot of time walking the enchanted forest trails.


Tony Kathy wrote: "This is really a beautiful and touching contribution to this site. Thank you for this gift."

Thank you, Kathy. I'm happy you liked it.


Tony Lisa wrote: "I think I need to read this one asap. I am desperately trying to make a chestnut tree grow in my garden. And it will need cheering to survive the harsh clinate for which I have destined it. It was ..."

Wohlleben doesn't mention chestnut trees in the book. His main nugget, though, is that trees are happiest and healthiest when with trees of the same species. But I wish your chestnut well.


Tony Elyse wrote: "PS. Our Mimosa Tree in our yard is huge and thriving. - as is our Norway Maple... our Walnut ( huge) .. and several other Maple trees ...our garden is huge - and we spend a lot of time working on i..."

Thank you, Elyse. Giant oaks surround our property, but there's also two huge sweetgums, a copse of pines, several flowering crabs, a magnolia, a maple, and, of all things, a persimmon tree. Like Lisa's chestnut, the persimmon is outside its ideal zone and could really use a friend. Give your mimosa a tickle for me, please.


Tony Fionnuala wrote: "So good to read, Tony.
I couldn't help being reminded of a giant ent from Lord of the Rings. I could just hear it saying in a gruff fatherly tone, "You full-leaf down there yet, son?"

Parents!



Jennifer Such a lovely review Tony- you made my day as I sit here eating my own truckstop lunch. I loved this one and I'm thinking I need to reread it ❤


Caroline You gave me such a beautiful start to the day, Tony. Thanks you.


message 12: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Jennifer wrote: "Such a lovely review Tony- you made my day as I sit here eating my own truckstop lunch. I loved this one and I'm thinking I need to reread it ❤"

And . . . your Twins are in First Place!


message 13: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Caroline wrote: "You gave me such a beautiful start to the day, Tony. Thanks you."

Glad you enjoyed it, Caroline.


message 14: by Agnieszka (new)

Agnieszka I couldn't decide about that title. I think, I have my answer now, Tony. Thanks.


message 15: by João Carlos (last edited Jun 13, 2017 06:57AM) (new) - added it

João Carlos Your review is much better than the book... (I m forest engineer)
In my opinion - play just to the middle of the fairway.
Next 8 or 9 iron and one meter put.
Excellent par or birdie!


message 16: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony João Carlos wrote: "Your review is much better than the book... (I m forest engineer)
In my opinion - play just to the middle of the fairway.
Next 8 or 9 iron and one meter put.
Excellent par or birdie!"


Good advice, João Carlos. In retrospect, I wish I had done that.


message 17: by Sofia (new)

Sofia beautiful review, I really enjoyed reading it. I can only have pots and tubs for my trees and am sad that they are missing out on the motherly roots.


message 18: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Sofia wrote: "beautiful review, I really enjoyed reading it. I can only have pots and tubs for my trees and am sad that they are missing out on the motherly roots."

It sounds like they are being mothered just fine, Sofia.


message 19: by Howard (new)

Howard Excellent! Anything about the golden aspen?


message 20: by HBalikov (new)

HBalikov Thank you for sharing your experience.


message 21: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Howard wrote: "Excellent! Anything about the golden aspen?"

There is, Howard, although he uses the alternate terminology: quaking aspen. There's this:

The quaking aspen takes its name from its leaves, which react to the slightest breath of wind. And although we have sayings that associate this characteristic with fear ("to shake like a leaf"), quaking aspens don't shake because they are afraid. Their leaves hang from flexible stems, exposing first their upper and then their lower surfaces to the sun. This means both sides of the leaves can photosynthesize. This is in contrast to other species, where the underside is reserved for breathing. Thus, quaking aspens can generate more energy, and they can grow faster than than birches.

There's more, too.


message 22: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony HBalikov wrote: "Thank you for sharing your experience."

Glad you likes it, HB.


message 23: by Howard (new)

Howard Tony wrote: "Howard wrote: "Excellent! Anything about the golden aspen?"

There is, Howard, although he uses the alternate terminology: quaking aspen. There's this:

The quaking aspen takes its name from its le..."


Yes, I forgot. I should have called them that, too. Driving in New Mexico in the fall on a dirt lane with their limbs creating a canopy overhead and their leaves shimmering in the breeze makes quaking aspen a perfect description and a perfect name.


message 24: by Aino (new)

Aino Shperber I so enjoyed reading this. You write really well.


message 25: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Aino wrote: "I so enjoyed reading this. You write really well."

Thank you, Aino! Happy to have entertained.


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