Jennifer’s book pick: Find out how trees are social beings

Title: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

Reviewed and recommended by Jennifer Ferguson, GBF director and chair of the Communication Committee


Published by: Greystone Books Ltd. and the David Suzuki Foundation

A walk in the woods or down a tree-lined street will take on new wonders after you read Peter Wohlleben’s fascinating book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World.

Among the many things you’ll discover about trees, should you decide to curl up with this professional forester’s book, is that they are social beings. Turns out, they are the ultimate networkers. They exchange nutrients through interconnected root systems, help raise the youngsters and alert one another to pesky invaders. They even feed and support their fallen elders who can no longer photosynthesize for themselves. Picture of book: The Hidden Life of Trees:  What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World

Trees also have a unique language that they use to communicate with one another: scent. Acacia trees on the African savannah, for example, emit ethylene to rid themselves of hungry herbivores (giraffes) and to warn nearby trees of the impending danger. Moreover, they can differentiate between different types of threats and mount a defense specific to that invader. Impressive!

But wait, does this not suggest that trees feel pain? Ouch! In fact, they do, says Wohlleben. Leaves that have been eaten by caterpillars send out electrical signals just like human tissue does when it’s been hurt. But trees live in the slow lane – not surprising given their centuries-long lifespan – so these impulses travel at a snail’s pace: one third of an inch per minute to be precise, so it can take an hour or more for the ‘scent’ cavalry to show up to ward off the caterpillars.

Another amazing thing about trees is that they can grow just about anywhere: in the far north, the desert or the city. But, to be sure, they thrive when surrounded by their own kind and left to their own devices in thoughtfully curated old growth forests. That said, they are highly adaptable and capable of learning (yes, learning!) over time, even in the harshest of environments, how to conserve both water and energy to sustain themselves.

I could go on but suffice it to say, trees are amazing works of nature that I have come to understand far more having read Wohlleben’s illuminating book. He is a knowledgeable, passionate and accessible storyteller who has helped me truly appreciate just how sensitive and crucial these majestic carbon dioxide-absorbing plants are to our well-being and, to our survival.

I can’t wait to read the other two books in Wohlleben’s Mysteries of Nature Trilogy: The Inner Life of Animals (published by Bodley Head) and The Secret Wisdom of Nature (published by Greystone) – all of which were for a time on the New York Times Bestseller list.

A little about the reviewer

Jennifer is a long-time volunteer and supporter of Georgian Bay Forever. She has served as the Chair of the Communication Committee and as a Director for several years. GBF is stronger thanks to her passion and volunteerism. At GBF, we are always hoping to connect with passionate people. It can even start with a book and author recommendation. If you want to submit one, please contact the education committee for consideration. We are looking for books that tell stories and or provide information that will help to illuminate and engage our fellow Georgian Bayers on protecting the water. Please contact us with the subject line Book Club Reco at info@gbf.org.