The Hidden Life of Trees

An article about a book by Peter Wohlleben 'The Hidden Life of Trees' recently appeared in the Guardian. The book looks very interesting and seems to posit similar ideas to those we have developed over the years living here: trees are social; they can communicate and the communication covers a number of 'topics'.

We can certainly attest to the fact trees are 'social' creatures; there is a good reason groups of similar species are sometimes referred to as a community.  Our success rate planting saplings has increased significantly since we began planting species of the same species together and closer.

The tendency (and general nursery advice) is to mix species and to plant them five to ten metres apart to allow for growth.  In many ways you can appreciate the logic.  However, in practice we found that clustering trees of the same species no more than two metres apart is far more successful.  Peter Wohlleben suggests this is because they are able to communicate and offer each other 'support' via a process of bio-chemical release.

To communicate his ideas Wohlleben uses anthropomorphism in his text, an approach that has come in for significant criticism, which is very interesting (perhaps he would have attracted less criticism if he'd used pheromones).  For me it is reminiscent of the approach of James Lovelock, whose Gaia hypothesis to represent an interlocking and interdependent eco-system was not only popularised but was highly successful in communicating 'hard' science.

Of course, Wohlleben's critics seem to mainly come from the forestry industry, which has a vested interest in society regarding trees as a simple economic commodity.

So, no surprise there.

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