• Amber

The Hidden Life of Trees

Peter Wohlleben

Sometimes, you pick up a book, and deliberately try and linger over the pages so as to not finish it too quickly. The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben is one of those books. I'll be honest - I wasn't expecting to be captivated by it, but I was.

Broken into 36 chapters, each dives into a different facet of trees, and brings with it a new understanding and insight. Did you know that for example, that trees use scent to communicate? The author gives the example of umbrella thorn acacias being by giraffes. Within a few minutes the acacias started making their leaves toxic, and gave off a warning gas to other nearby trees - so that they too started creating a toxic substance in their leaves. Problem solved!

Another fascinating chapter covered the interaction between trees and fungi. Particular relationships occur between different species, where the mycelium (the underground web of the fungus) link with the tree - giving the tree a greater root surface, meaning it can access more nutrients and water. It comes at a price though - I was surprised to read that some fungi are hungry ... so hungry that they take up to 30% of the tree's nutrients. And yet it works. I can see another addition to my reading pile will be Entangled Life.

At this time of year (February) you're just starting to see tiny signs of life emerging on twigs. How do they know when to break cover and begin to unfurl? Apparently it's a combination of temperature and day length. Longer days means spring, cooler weather means autumn. But in a plot twist, trees that are native to us in the northern hemisphere, such as beeches or oaks, will adapt if they are moved to the southern hemisphere. Why is that such a big deal? Simply put - it means trees must have a memory in order to compare seasons.

The book is full of fascinating insights that make you immediately want to read bits out loud to whoever is in earshot. It certainly gives a new appreciation to the trees we pass every day, and how they got there, their life span, the secret communication with their neighbours, and so much more. If you see someone staring up at the trees, that'll be me.

Fancy visiting some Shaftesbury trees? Take a look at the tree walk.

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