Trees Have Social Networks And Complex Relationships

January 13, 2017

Longtime forest ranger in Germany, Peter Wohlleben, has been studying the forest since he first decided to become a conservationist at 6 years old. He followed his passion for nature throughout college, where he studied forestry and went on to work as an Office Manager of a forestry office. Now he works at the forests in Eifel Gemeinde Hümmel and Wershofen. He recently published a book titled “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World” that made German forests popular again.

In the book, he explains how trees have their own network, fondly called the “Wood Wide Web,” that keep the trees in a forest interconnected and cause the trees to react to situations in inexplicable ways. Peter took Sally McGrane from the New York Times on a walk through his beloved forest and showed her a pair of beech trees. He said,

“These trees are friends. You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.” He added, “Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.”

Sounds a bit like how some humans operate as well, such as when elderly loved ones die within months or even days of each other because they can’t stand to live without the other.

The terms used in Peter’s book are largely anthropomorphic, meaning he regularly applies human terms and verbs to trees. This is something many biologists, who have known for years about the trees’ behavior, take issue with because his choice of language may lead readers astray. For example, he says that the trees “talk” rather than “communicate,” despite the fact that scientists say that they don’t talk in the traditional way that humans would expect.

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