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

by Peter Wohlleben

Hardcover, 2016




Vancouver ; Berkeley : Greystone Books, [2016]


Are trees social beings? Forester and author Peter Wohlleben makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how 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. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

Media reviews

New Scientist
Wohlleben's anecdotes are engaging, but sadly his book contains only a few.

User reviews

LibraryThing member southernbooklady
I had actually been avoiding this because I was leery of what looked like its blatant, unapologetic anthropomorphism. Its "woo woo" feel. The author describes forests as communities, trees as having friendships, personalities, parenting skills. He talks about the way they hear, feel, touch, talk. Even love. Really, it's enough to drive a person nuts. it turns out, Wohlleben takes this approach deliberately, in order to make his readers do one very specific thing -- let go of the instinctive hierarchy we all implicitly assume exists between the plant and animal kingdoms. And between humans, and all the rest of life on earth. So when he discusses the difference between a solitary tree planted in a park setting that rarely lives up to its potential girth or age and the tree in a forest setting surrounded by many others of the same species which lives longer and grows stronger, as the difference between being raised on the streets and being raised in a good stable family -- he's not exactly imposing human centric concepts on an oak tree. He's really trying to get the reader to view the plant world -- the tree world -- as something dynamic, sensitive and responsive to its own environment, participatory and engaged in that environment. And that is something that is surely true, even if the language of intention he often falls into makes me squirm.

But then, people tend to regard themselves as apart from the ecosystem. They are, one might say, unempathetic, blind and deaf to the pulse of other kinds of life. So they do not consider it a moral problem to, say, cut down a tree, because in a human's mind, they are not "hurting" anything. Wohlleben's book is basically an extended explanation and description of how someone hurts a tree-- and the forest -- by cutting it down. In the world of trees, the book would probably come with warning labels for graphic violence.

But it is all science -- all a detailed account of how a wounded tree attempts to heal itself, what happens if it can't, what happens when opportunistic species -- fungi, bugs, critters, (people!), exploit a weakness. And the science, it has to be said, is absolutely fascinating. Do you know, I never realized that the circulatory system of trees which brings water up and down the trunk -- explained to me in grade school as "osmosis and capillary action" -- is not understood? That neither osmosis nor capillary action can account for the amount of water that has to be pushed up sometimes hundreds of feet, gallons at a time. And in fact we just don't know how trees do it.

Wohlleben packs a lot of truly very cool scientific research into what is really a quick and very readable book, and if he is sometimes a little too speculative on what all that research is telling us, nevertheless he succeeds in what he set out to do: convince the reader that if we want to understand and be awake to the rhythms of life around us, then distinctions between plant and animal are arbitrary and not particularly useful.
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LibraryThing member StephenBarkley
In the woods just north of the house I grew up in lived a massive hemlock, about ten feet off the main trail. During winter the snow would pin its lower branches to the ground. If you tucked the collar of your coat up under your toque, you could sneak through the branches without getting too much snow down your back. Once inside those perimeter branches, you entered a different world. The frigid wind and cold was gone and the snow that made walking so difficult was less than an inch thick. Every time I walked that trail in the winter, I made sure to pause underneath that hemlock.

Trees have always fascinated me which is why I was quick to pick up German forester Peter Wohlleben's book. The Hidden Life of Trees is interesting reading. Did you know that trees can feed nutrients to the stumps of their fallen comrades, keeping the stump alive for centuries? Did you know that trees communicate with each other, warning their neighbours of pests?

Wohlleben convincing demonstrates that trees are far more complex organisms than we have understood. A fully functioning forest—forests that take five centuries to develop—are perfectly balanced examples of biodiversity.

Unfortunately, Wohlleben's fascinating information and observations about the forests are mixed with overly anthropomorphic ideas. You get the impression that Wohlleben has spent a little too much time in the woods alone! The Hidden Life of Trees walks the fine line between research and romanticisation, falling too often into the latter.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The Hidden Life of Trees is a fantastic little big book. It's little in length but big on new perspective and ideas. Originally published in German, Peter Wohlleben is an ex-forestry manager who decided to look beyond the typical knowledge of trees. He is a lifetime close observer who sees trees as a form of animal with memory, sensory input, paternal instincts. His basis is recent science.The other great thing is Wohlleben projects a sense of mystery about trees, he's like a Gandalf character speaking about the Ents, but always remaining grounded in the facts. Great stuff and great book.… (more)
LibraryThing member ivan.frade
This books captures very well the complex interactions than make nature run. It explains how trees "work" and how forests are more than the sum of their trees. It manages to break down in short and easy to read chapters how fungus, animals, weather, different species help/fight/harm-but-not-too-much each other to form a resilient ecosystem.

I liked a lot the information exposed, the mix of research data with the "once you think about it, it makes sense" explanations and the easy-going tone of the book, but the excessive "personification" of the trees (specially at the beginning) made it difficult to take it more seriously.
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LibraryThing member a_forester
a meditation on these companions we we have always had but often overlooked.
LibraryThing member Bookish59
Wow! A stunner of a book revealing secrets of how trees live long lives, and what causes them to die prematurely. I didn't know about and was amazed to learn of the 'social' network of support in a forest to assist each other with help from fungus and other organisms.

This gem of a book is rich in information that can be overwhelming to most readers. For me this means purchasing this book is a must because I've always adored trees, and this beautiful book already has and will continue to teach me more about how trees communicate, suffer, heal, and effect the environment and people.… (more)
LibraryThing member RajivC
This is an excellent, if challenging book, on trees. I love trees and this is why I picked up the book. I have also been contemplating buying a book on the trees of Delhi by Pradip Kishen, and maybe I will.

Why do I say it is challenging? I say say because Peter challenges us in a gentle manner, to review our own beliefs of trees. In the beginning, I read the chapters with complete disbelief and incredulity and, then I asked myself what people thought before they were challenged to believe in the spherical nature of the Earth.

Once you allow yourself to go past this stage, then you open your senses to enter a world that is alien, magical and wholly believable.

An excellent book. I would only have loved some photographs. It is my hope that this lacuna is fulfilled in future editions.
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LibraryThing member 2wonderY
Fascinating! Some of what he writes is hard to believe. Can't quite tell if wishful thinking stretches the science. But his ecology of coastlands makes all kinds of sense. I hope people who can adopt these practices are listening.
LibraryThing member Kathl33n
I have absolutely no science background so I can't address the science behind the thoughts in this book. But, I do love being in the woods and I thought this book was great. It was jam packed full of really fascinating and interesting tidbits.
LibraryThing member LaPhenix
What an incredible read! Wohlleben's book is absolutely brimming with enlightening details about the next of trees and forests. His experience raises so many questions about what we think we know about plants and nature in general. I'm eager to read what further research will reveal.
LibraryThing member MeisterPfriem
You will never look at trees and woods with the same eyes again after reading this book: it literary opens your eyes and you become sensitive to features you had simply not been aware of. When first opening the book its popular language made me skeptical: it is however well researched, its sources are listed and an Index provided. It is a young research area and much more information about the lives of trees is to be expected in the future. Two small points: The drawing supposedly of a „Birch“ is never a birch tree; it looks like a tree of the genus ‚prunus‘. And, considering European readers of this American-English translation, temperatures should also be given in degrees centigrade and heights in meters. (VI-17)… (more)


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