The Hidden Life of Trees

How can you understand the lifecycle of something that lives for hundreds of years? Do trees have brains? These questions and more are asked in The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, a book which I read in about three days this week.

I love trees. They're tall and stoic, so I relate to them. Like Peter, I too feel a sense of serenity and belonging when walking beneath an ancient forest canopy and that is not just because most ancient forest canopies I've walked under have been adjacent to a thriving craft beer industry. There was a day in Switzerland last month where we walked through a forest ever so briefly and it reminded me of the endorphins of hiking in the forests in the Pacific Northwest. Nearly every chapter in this book also gave me that feeling.

In Hidden Life, Wohlleben summarises the results of many studies into trees and tree "behaviour". Do trees have a sense of taste and smell? They can react in different ways to different predators. Can they remember, and count? They respond to stimulus in different ways after being conditioned, and seem to know what time of the year it is. Do they have friends and enemies among their forest neighbours?

The answers are fascinating, though simplified from what I am sure are rigorous scientific experiments. However at times I did worry that the author may love trees too much. A lot of his narrative seems to be personifying natural selection, biology and physics as thought, knowledge and memory. Surely trees don't have brains. What they have is really just chemical reactions and electrical impulses.

Which, I guess, is actually how my brain works as well...

Perhaps the real problem here is that I have personified myself too much.


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