The Hidden Life of Trees: Book review

I read this book in almost one gulp. Very easy to read, with an engaging style, and I learnt a few things I didn’t know about trees. The central idea is one that has become familiar to me over the last couple of years, though I was flabbergasted by it at first:
A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods.

To me, the really mind-boggling idea in this book is that trees nurture and control their children. You need to read this book to realise how human they are! The author is talking specifically of old beech forests in Europe, and this may not be true of all species or all forests, but still… What an idea, sir! In our context, Pradeep Kishen talks in the introduction to the Indian edition about how i’s next to impossible to grow a lone sal tree. And I’ve been noticing myself, in the last few years, how honge trees like to grow in clumps in their natural habitat, so that you often can’t tell if it’s one tree with many trunks, or many trees.

Some amount of local corroboration, though honge trees do grow singly, and make good avenue trees all over Bangalore.

Another interesting idea is that trees have friends. Wohlleben says: “A pair of true friends is careful right from the outset not to grow overly thick branches in each other’s direction. The trees don’t want to take anything away from each other, and so they develop sturdy branches only at the outer edges of their crowns…”

And here, right before my eyes, is such a pair of true friends. And thorny friends at that, who have to mind each other’s pricklinesses like an old married porcupine couple.

So, yes, recommended, but with a caution: this book is a pleasant, interesting and enlightening read, but it’s mainly anecdotal, so don’t go looking for scientific proofs.

7 responses to “The Hidden Life of Trees: Book review

  1. I live in a geographically designated “cold semi-arid steppe climate,” also known as prairie. Steppe (grassland) designation notwithstanding, we have lots of trees; many are imported from other areas, though once planted here they do proliferate. I do not think of trees as people, but certainly as living things of beauty and a providential provision for soil nutrition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lauren, I love the prairies, from all the books I’ve read about them, starting with Laura Ingalls Wilder. You are lucky! As for trees being human, I used the word loosely because I couldn’t find a more suitable word. It is more that they are sentient, and that we have more in common with them than we have been aware. You may have read about all the recent research on octopuses, and how they are super intelligent in ways very different from ours. I feel we are only just beginning to understand other living beings, though ancient cultures apprehended their emotional lives in a non scientific way.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Trees also provide life-giving provisions to birds, which are very important to me. I appreciate your statements, Harini, because they so admirably reflect the highest human values. Trees, for instance, have lives that have value, just as we do. Life has intrinsic value in every form in which it occurs. We should never assert biological superiority as humans simply beacause we can think categorically.

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