TREES ARE SOCIAL BEINGS!

A book about bringing back forests instead of just stand alone lonely trees… here is a bible on trees, for trees, of trees and for all tree lovers! A forest is all about unity and diversity and much more

‘The Hidden Life of Trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate’ by Peter Wohlleben, introduced by Pradip Krishen. Published by an imprint of Penguin Random House, hardcover, `499

THESE days in enlightened community living the world over they are going all out for the return of primeval forests. But we in India are hell bent on cutting our forests of trees as surreptitiously and as quickly as we can in the name of an obsolete form of development and progress! Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees’ must be read by all tree lovers, whoever considers trees sacred friends of Mother Earth, and ours. Quite simply because wherever there are trees there is water, food, oxygen to breathe, shelter and there is life for all creatures small and big. Some of the most fascinating stories are those to do with the extraordinary world of forests and here in this book you will find some fascinating stories about trees and the wildlife which lives within their ecosystem. The author has done some groundbreaking and scientific work to present to us that trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. He says trees in a forest feel protected and live to be very old while in contrast solitary trees here and there are like street kids, have a rough and tough time surviving – in most cases die prematurely. Have you ever thought of being as lonely as a tree? Think so now very differently after reading this book. You will never be able to look at a tree or walk through woods of trees in the same indifferent casual way ever again! Talk trees with someone today, an urban denizen, and chances he or she will think you’ve gone dotty or have been too much in the sun…but speak to a woodsman or a forester (Peter Wohlleben worked for over 20 years for the forestry commission in Germany before leaving to put his ideas of ecology into practice, he has written numerous books on trees) and you may discover a wonderfully rewarding kindred world of trees. Pradip Krishen (a “rewilder” into restoring degraded natural habitats with native plants, author of bestsellersTrees of Delhi’ and Jungle Trees of Central India’) in his introduction to the book says there is a lot we in India can learn from this book for “It is sad but true that in India we live in a scientific backwater when it comes to ecological issues. Much of our plant life in India has been mapped and documented but very little of its ecology, the relationship between living things and their surroundings. Our forest departments are prime offenders because, far from learning about or teaching us about how thingswork’ in our forests and wilderness areas, Indian forest departments have been notoriously inimical to independent scientific research. It seems such a shame.”
To this all one may say is it is never too late to learn. Do you know that we owe our stern forestry plantation system in India to German foresters who first organized and instituted the forest department and its policies in India and Burma in the mid-19th century because Britain had no tradition of “scientific forestry” in the nineteenth century? France and Germany did but not Britain. It’s a very insightful introduction to say the least here.
Say it is an insightful introduction to an even more insightful book with a couple of prefaces. Who would believe that there is so much synergy between trees old and new, studying deeply embedded root systems the author says, “They (trees) create what looks like a social network, but what they are experiencing is nothing more than a purely accidental give and take. In this scenario, chance encounters replace the more emotionally charged image of active support, though even chance encounters offer benefits for the forest ecosystem…”
Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. “A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make I easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer..….”
Reading this book so lovingly written and with such keen observation that it makes one constantly feel and think that trees are just like us. Better than us really for there is no evil in them! There’re lots of lessons we human of the species could learn from the world of trees if only we were more sensitive to Mother Earth and how many of our misdemeanors she tolerates under duress. Teach your children to plant trees and have a warm understanding relationship with them and they will have a lifelong, rewarding friendship always at hand.
After just an initial reading of the book one knows that this one is for keeps, to return to again and again. If one may be so lucky as Peter Wohlleben or Pradip Krishen to share such friendships with trees like they so obviously do!
So here’s a book to fall in love with trees for the first time or for the umpteenth and forever after time. Do get a copy for a refreshing read and share it with whoever expresses an interest in reading it!

­— Reviewed by Pankajbala R Patel

Excerpted from ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’: YOURS OR MINE?

The forest ecosystem is held in a delicate balance. Every being has its niche and is function, which contribute to the wellbeing of all. Nature is often described like that, or something along those lines: however, that is, unfortunately, false. For out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes form the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there re safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics: an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out. Most species, therefore, have developed innate behaviours that protect the forest from over-exploitation. We are already familiar with a good example, and that is the jay that eats acorns and beechnuts but buries a multitude of them as it does so, ensuring that the trees can multiply more efficiently with it than without it.
Whenever you walk through a tall, dark forest, you are walking down the aisles of a huge grocery store. It is filled with all sorts of delicacies – at least as far as animals, fungi, and bacteria are concerned. A single tree contains millions of calories in the form of sugar, cellulose, lignin, and other carbohydrates. It also contains water and valuable minerals. Did I say a grocery store? A better description would be a heavily guarded warehouse, for there is no question here of just helping yourself. The door is barred, the bark thick, and you must come up with a plan to get to the sweet treasures inside. And you are a woodpecker.
Thanks to a unique structure that allows its beak to flex and head muscles that absorb impact, a woodpecker can hack away at trees without getting a headache. In the spring, when water is shooting up through the trees, streaming up to the buds, and delivering delicious provisions, several species of woodpeckers called sapsuckers drill dotted lines of small holes in the thinner trunks or branches. The trees begin to bleed out of these wounds. Tree blood doesn’t look very dramatic – it looks a lot like water – however, the loss of this bodily fluid is as detrimental to the trees as it is to us. This fluid is what these sap-sucking woodpeckers are after, and they begin ot lick it up. The trees usually mostly tolerate the damage, as long as the woodpeckers don’t get carried away and make too many of these holes. Eventually, the holes heal over, leaving patterns that look like intentionally decorative scarring.

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