To read Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees is to discover a secret world that you never knew existed in the forest. You'll learn how fungi acts as the Internet of the woods to communicate signals between trees and other plant life, mother trees stunt the growth of their young to ensure that they live to a ripe old age, and how trees form bonds and help each other when one is sick.
Green Mountains Nature Reserve. Photo by Guillaume Simoneau.
The Hidden Life of Trees has resonated with readers all over the world. Originally published in May 2015, a new edition was just released by Greystone Books in September 2016. It has received positive reviews from major media outlets, including The Guardian in the United Kingdom and The New York Times in the United States.
The message at the core of the book is that each tree is not an individual, standing alone against the ravages of nature. In fact, the forest functions better as a community. Older trees look after young ones, groups of trees will try to rejuvenate stumps, and predators are repelled by the release of toxins and electrical signals to other trees through the forest network of fungi that they are near.
Wohlleben redefines the forest in a way that allows a regular reader to understand the science of all the drama that is taking place in a seemingly quiet wood. Wohlleben leaves readers feeling like they are pulling a curtain back to peek at the intrigues of life in the forest.
A career forester turned ecological forest manager
Part of the reason for the book's popularity is Wohlleben's gift of conveying very complex scientific ideas in easy-to-understand language. This ease of language may come the fact that Wohlleben spent 20 years in the forestry service in Germany. Wohlleben decided to put his ideas about forest ecology into practice in municipally owned woodland in Huemmel, Germany. The book marries his experience with ecological forest management with his extensive background in forestry.
Canada researchers frequently cited
While Wohlleben is German, he frequently mentions the work of Suzanne Simard throughout the book. Simard is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia. She has done groundbreaking work in many areas, but in particular the communication between trees.
Wohlleben also cites the work of Zoë Lindo from McGill University to provide insight into old-growth forests, since no true old-growth forests currently exist in Wohlleben's native central Europe. Lindo's research into Sitka spruce on the west coast showed that more moss was present on the branches of these old trees, which acted as fertilizer when the rain washed it down into the forest canopy.
Old-growth & undisturbed forests do a better job at combatting climate change
Wohlleben makes the case for forest conservation by discussing the extra efforts that old-growth forests contribute towards climate change. An old tree is a more productive tree in terms of carbon sequestration - so the more old trees we have, the better a job our forests will do at combatting the effects of climate change.
Powder Islands, ON. Photo by Mike Dembeck.
After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, your eyes will be open to an interconnected world that you never knew existed -- and you'll better understand the need for conservation and stewardship of Canada's forests.
Suzanne Simard will be a speaker at the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Why Forests Matter event series on October 26 in Calgary, November 9 in Montreal and November 15 in Toronto.
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