Forests are fascinating and should be visited often by anyone willing to get to know Nature. To capture its depth, complementing those visits with scientific knowledge is a prerequisite and I can only advise to read the thought book of Peter Wohlleben “The Hidden Life of Trees”. I share in this article 3 learnings from this book.
1. Forests are not Trees, but Ecosystems
Forests are ecosystems composed of trees, wildlife, soil, air and water:
- Wildlife is interconnected with trees and they need each other to live,
- Air not only brings vital elements to trees – carbon and oxygen – but also trees emit in the air olfactive signals that insects or other trees are able to intercept,
- Water is a condition of life for trees and wildlife and trees play a role a water lifecycle,
- Soil is also a necessary condition for the existence of forests because trees need to be rooted, and soil brings nutritive elements to trees.
Healthy forests prevent from soil erosion and are even essential to the formation of soil. Soils are fascinating ecosystems hosting insects, worms, mushrooms… which work altogether to decompose organic matter (leaf, timber, animals’ dejection…) into humus which provides back vital functions to trees.
Mushrooms are trees companions and they cooperate together: mushrooms will wrap around roots and exchange information and nutrients in return for sugar. Mushrooms form a wide wood web network essential to the trees’ life and communication with others.
2. Trees Communicate with the External Environment
Trees are living entities having their own language. They communicate by emitting olfactive, visual, electric and perhaps even sound signals in the air or through their roots system in the soil, with the collaboration of mushrooms.
Trees communicate to defend against predators. They are even able to jointly prepare a targeted answer: whenever bitten by an insect or animal, trees recognize the saliva and consequently emit specific odors to inform other trees around. The latter will receive chemical signals, and suddenly all the tribe will produce repulsive substances to prepare for defense.
Trees also communicate to alert others about drought risks. In case there is a lack of water in the soil, trees would use sounds and the wide wood to notify farther trees alerting them to slow down their water consumption.
Visual and olfactive signals to insect pollinators are a third example of the trees’ ability to communicate with the external world. The colors and forms of flowers, combined with specific odors, attract insects which would get nectar in exchange for the pollination service rendered.
3. Forests are Similar to Human Societies
Trees cannot live alone. Much like humans, belonging to a community makes their life easier. Trees need other trees, water and wildlife to be healthy, robust and live longer. If there are weak species in a forest, all the ecosystem is in danger.
While some species are in competition, companion plants develop mutual benefits and show solidarity to one another: weak trees are always supported by the tribe.
If some trees have access to more water and nutrients than, with the help of mushrooms, stronger trees would share generously with those who are poorly off.
Children trees grow next to their parent. On average, trees become adults after 80 years and have only one child: they bear seeds in their flowers or their fruits. However, only one seed is fertilized, and all the other seeds are either eaten by animals, or become humus.
Throughout their life, trees are known to have strong family bonds: using their roots, the parent tree feeds the child tree, and when the latter is all grown up, it supports in turn the parent tree.
Parent trees educate children. Inherently slow, trees take their time to grow and this education measure is imposed by parents to children. As they receive only 3% of the light because of their small size, children trees can’t be taller. However, this measure forces them to develop resilience against winds and wildlife attacks, and as a result they live longer.
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