If trees could talk, what would they say? Emerging research suggests that if they had mouths, they might just say a whole lot because, believe it or not, trees have brains and intelligence, and are able to communicate with other trees much like humans do with other humans when in social situations.
Not only can they talk to each other, but trees also care for each other and feel pain, says forester Peter Wohlleben, who tells all of his experiences with trees in a recent piece for the Daily Mail Online. Far from just inanimate plants, trees do many of the things animals and humans do, though for many this is not necessarily obvious.
When Wohlleben began his career as a forester back in the 1980s, he wasn’t privy to what he now says is a hidden civilization living inside every forest. He knew how to look at various tree species and assess their value on the lumber market, but he didn’t actually know these trees as the living beings they truly are.
He writes about his experiences observing the unique ways in which trees grew, especially at their root systems. From the vast intertwining root webs to the robust trunks and unique branches and leaf growth patterns her observed, Wohlleben came to realize that there’s a whole lot more to trees than just their potential to be turned into furniture.
The first signs of what he describes as “tree friendships” were evident in the strange growths around dead tree stumps that Wohlleben came to realize were being kept alive by nearby trees. Nearby trees of the same species, astonishingly, actually care for each other, and they do this by feeding one another when they can’t do so on their own as a way of collective survival.
“Most individual trees of the same species growing in the same copse or stand will be connected through their root systems,” he writes. “It appears that helping neighbours in times of need is the rule, which leads to the conclusion that forests are super-organisms, much like ant colonies.”
Trees of a feather flock together
In support of this, research by Professor Massimo Maffei from the University of Turin shows that trees not only help each other out, but they specifically offer help to other trees that are like them. Trees are capable of identifying their family members and relatives, the science shows, which allows them to care for their own kind and make sure they persist.
In some cases, trees actually appear to marry one another, as observed in instances where two trees that are intertwined at their root systems support each other during illness, care for each other throughout their lives, and eventually die, often at the same time.
Wohlleben likens this beautiful phenomenon of love and friendship between trees to the way elephants travel in herds and care for one another throughout their lives. Like elephants, trees are beautiful creatures with a whole lot of love to give to one another — so much so that they have a hard time letting go of their loved ones in times of death.
How do trees communicate with each other? Through chemical and electrical signals that run throughout their underground fungal networks — or what Dr. Suzanne Simard from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver describes as the “wood wide web.”
“It’s hardly surprising that most of us see trees as practically inanimate, nothing more than objects,” says Wohlleben. “But the truth is very different. They are just as intensely alive as we are … and for much, much longer.”