Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben


Author: Peter Wohlleben Cover of The Hidden Life of Trees
Title: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries From A Secret World
Translator: Jane Billinghurst
Publication Info: Greystone Books, 2015
Summary/Review:

Peter Wohlleben, a forester from Germany, writes a series of essays about trees – how they communicate, how they feel, how they handle the stress.  If you’ve never thought that trees can do these things, you’re in for a treat.  Fungal networks in the roots allow individual trees to communicate with other trees in the forests.  In fact, trees can even scream.  They have to deal with the strains of storms breaking their limbs, animals chipping away their bark, and fungi invading their interior. If you like trees, or even just enjoy a nice walk in the wood, this book is a great guide to the hidden world of what is going on around you.

Favorite Passages:

“most individual trees of the same species growing in the same stand are connected to each other through their root systems. It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.”

“They love nutrient-rich, loose, crumbly soil that is well aerated to a depth of many feet. The ground should be nice and moist, especially in summer. But it shouldn’t get too hot, and in winter, it shouldn’t freeze too much. Snowfall should be moderate but sufficient that when the snow melts, it gives the soil a good soaking. Fall storms should be moderated by sheltering hills or mountain ridges, and the forest shouldn’t harbor too many fungi or insects that attack bark or wood. If trees could dream of an earthly paradise, this is what it would look like. But apart from a few small pockets, these ideal conditions are nowhere to be found. And that is a good thing for species diversity.”

“Today’s deposits of these fossil fuels come from trees that died about 300 million years ago. They looked a bit different—more like 100-foot-tall ferns or horsetail—but with trunk diameters of about 6 feet, they rivaled today’s species in size. Most trees grew in swamps, and when they died of old age, their trunks splashed down into stagnant water, where they hardly rotted at all. Over the course of thousands of years, they turned into thick layers of peat that were then overlain with rocky debris, and pressure gradually turned the peat to coal. Thus, large conventional power plants today are burning fossil forests. Wouldn’t it be beautiful and meaningful if we allowed our trees to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors by giving them the opportunity to recapture at least some of the carbon dioxide released by power plants and store it in the ground once again?”

“Wood fibers conduct sound particularly well, which is why they are used to make musical instruments such as violins and guitars. You can do a simple experiment to test for yourself how well these acoustics work. Put your ear up against the narrow end of a long trunk lying on the forest floor and ask another person at the thicker end to carefully make a small knocking or scratching sound with a pebble. On a still day, you can hear the sound through the trunk incredibly clearly, even if you lift your head. Birds use this property of wood as an alarm system for their nesting cavities.”

“Every trunk is different. Each has its own pattern of woody fibers, a testament to its unique history. This means that, after the first gust—which bends all the trees in the same direction at the same time—each tree springs back at a different speed. And usually it is the subsequent gusts that do a tree in, because they catch the tree while it’s still severely bowed and bend it over again, even farther this time. But in an intact forest, every tree gets help. As the crowns swing back up, they hit each other, because each of them is straightening up at its own pace. While some are still moving backwards, others are already swinging forward again. The result is a gentle impact, which slows both trees down. By the time the next gust of wind comes along, the trees have almost stopped moving altogether and the struggle begins all over again.”

“Chlorophyll helps leaves process light. If trees processed light super-efficiently, there would be hardly any left over—and the forest would then look as dark during the day as it does at night. Chlorophyll, however, has one disadvantage. It has a so-called green gap, and because it cannot use this part of the color spectrum, it has to reflect it back unused. This weak spot means that we can see this photosynthetic leftover, and that’s why almost all plants look deep green to us. What we are really seeing is waste light, the rejected part that trees cannot use. Beautiful for us; useless for the trees. Nature that we find pleasing because it reflects trash?”

“I, for one, welcome breaking down the moral barriers between animals and plants. When the capabilities of vegetative beings become known, and their emotional lives and needs are recognized, then the way we treat plants will gradually change, as well. Forests are not first and foremost lumber factories and warehouses for raw material, and only secondarily complex habitats for thousands of species, which is the way modern forestry currently treats them. Completely the opposite, in fact.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Blogging from A to Z Challenge: B is for “Branches” #atozchallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge through all of April 2017. Every day (except Sundays), I will be posting a new, original photograph (or photographs) related to the letter of the alphabet.

Today’s letter is “B” which stands for “branches.”

 

Do you like these photographs?  How do they make you feel?  Do they tell a story?  If you know a thing or two about photography, what technical suggestions would you make?  Let me know in the comments!!!

JP A to Z: A is for Arboretum #AtoZChallenge #JamaicaPlain


A is for Arboretum

Our first day in Jamaica Plain for JP A to Z brings us to the Arnold Arboretum.  A link in the chain of green spaces that make up Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the “Ahbs” is part Harvard University tree museum.  Whether you’re studying trees (or the animals that inhabit them) or just going for a walk or bike ride, Arnold Arboretum is a place enjoyed by JP residents in all four seasons.

Post for “A” in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

Click to see more “Blogging A to Z” posts.

Arnold Arboretum’s Lilac Sunday


I hesistate to put “Lilac Sunday” into the title of this post since I didn’t see any lilacs on my visit.  Susan, Peter & I took a lovely Mother’s Day walk on a sunny, blustery day and arrived at Arnold Arboretum fairly early in the morning.  This is a good time to get there on Lilac Sunday before approximately 3.25 kajillion people descend on the Arbortetum.  Peter received a lovely tatoo of the Earth with flowers and a recycling logo and immediately set to work on removing it with his teeth.

Next we joined Arnold Arboretum curator Michael Dosmann lead an excellent tour to the lilacs (“just to the lilacs, not of the lilacs” he specified).  We learned fascinating things about maples, lindens and tulip trees.  After the tour I chose to luxuriate in the grass while Susan chased Peter up and down the hill to the lilacs.  So my family saw the lilacs on Lilac Sunday while I lay splayed in the grass photographing buttercups.

I will have to return on a less-crowded day this week to visit the lilacs.  Until then, here are my photos from Sunday, 100% lilac-free.

Previously: Lilac Sunday, YEAH!

Fall Foliage Festival at Arnold Arboretum


On Sunday, October 26th, the Arnold Arboretum hosted their first ever Fall Foliage Festival, an autumnal counterpart to spring’s Lilac Sunday. What a great idea!  I mean why drive to New Hampshire and Vermont for leaf peeping when there’s a little bit of the great outdoors right here in Jamaica Plain?  The timing is difficult of course as the foliage was actually more brilliant a week earlier, but it was a great event all the same.  There were demonstrations, tours, hayrides, and great music.  I saw a group of parents and children gamely dancing the Virginia Reel to the Bagboys and everyone was having a blast.

My son Peter & I checked out festival, albeit only the last hour as Peter was napping.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed this great event and hope to return next year.  And if anyone from the Arboretum is looking for ideas, I think it would be cool (no pun intended) if they held a winter festival focusing on the conifers.  That way the flowering plants, deciduous trees, and evergreens would all have their special day.

Lilac Sunday, YEAH!


First, an explanation of the title. Lilac Sunday is an annual event at Arnold Arboretum celebrated this year for the 100th time. 8 years ago Susan and I were walking through Central Square in Cambridge talking about going to Lilac Sunday and maybe sending lilacs to our mothers for Mothers Day. At this point, the man walking in front of us turned around, looked right in my face and said “YEAH!” He then turned around and resumed his stride as if nothing happened. To this day I don’t know if he liked the idea or if lilacs didn’t agree with him. Regardless, neither of us can talk about Lilac Sunday without interjecting a random “YEAH!” here or there.

After 8 years of being typical Somervilleans who avoided long trips across the river, we could not avoid Lilac Sunday since the Arboretum is next door to our current residence. The first thing we noticed about Lilac Sunday is that it attracts a lot of people, especially babies, and dogs. I’ve grown accustomed to the solitude of walking Peter through the Arboretum on weekday mornings so the crowds were a bit overwhelming. Still it was a nice day to inspect the lilacs, sniff their aromas, and relax in the grass.

Peter checks out the lilacs.

Lilacs up close.

Another type of lilac. What do you want, I’m a librarian not a botanist!

This is not a lilac. It’s called Orange Quince, but we did not have runcible spoons.

This also is not a lilac, but it sure is pretty to see blossoms against the blue sky again.

People, people everywhere. And trees, yes there are lots of trees in the Arboretum.

Adam at Universal Hub posts links to other bloggers’ commentary on Lilac Sunday.