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These Trees Are Friends

February 7, 2016

Can it be that even trees are old friends? And perhaps mourn their departed? A German forest ranger thinks so. The appropriately named Peter Wohlleben (“live well” or “farewell”) describes how pairs of ancient trees grow with their limbs apart to share the light, while their roots entwine to share nutrients. Even for years after one tree is cut down, its neighbor may continue shunting nutrients to the stump. For what biological purpose? Do trees really “suckle their young”?

Of course, we may be quick to set aside the musings of German forest worship, and point out that trees can be vicious, as in the strangler fig that consumes and replaces the tree it parasitizes. But just as in the world of animals with recognized nervous systems, trees do exhibit positive relationships. The roots of trees require miles of fungal internet called mycorrhyzae, analogous to the Eywa network in the film Avatar. And trees provide homes to birds and insects that protect and pollinate.

Wolleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees shares some of these mysteries. Not yet released in English, it sounds like a book worth waiting for.

 

2 Comments
  1. Betsy Garrett permalink
    February 8, 2016 4:35 pm

    Did you happen to see the letter to the Editor in the New York Times on Feb. 6? Inspired by Wolleben’s article, Michael Royce wrote about his relationship with a favorite coconut palm when he was a boy. “Every day I would sit against its bark and talk about everything while massaging its trunk.” in 1971, yellowing disease hit and his tree along with all the other coconut palms on his street was near death. Michael was devastated. “One afternoon, I wrapped my legs and arms around its trunk and loudly begged for it not to die, openly spilling tears on its bark, not caring that people outside or in passing cars witnessed such naked desperation.” Although all the other coconut palms on his street died, his tree survived, “watching over me for years afterward.” His story gave me chills.

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