The Hid­den Life of Trees

The Guardian - Review - - Non-fiction - PD Smith

by Peter Wohlleben, trans­lated by Jane Billinghurst (Wil­liam Collins, £9.99)

Ac­cord­ing to Peter Wohlleben, we fail to un­der­stand trees be­cause “they live on a dif­fer­ent time scale” from us. One of the world’s most ven­er­a­ble trees is a spruce in Swe­den that is 9,500 years old. Wohlleben draws on decades of ex­pe­ri­ence as a forester in Ger­many’s Eifel moun­tains for this eye-open­ing book. He starts with wise words for those en­ter­ing a for­est: “Slow down, breathe deep and look around.” Not only is the air cleaner, as leaves fil­ter out pol­lu­tants, but pine forests re­lease de­fen­sive com­pounds that kill germs. Trees also re­lease oxy­gen, so a walk in the woods is “like tak­ing a shower in oxy­gen”. Wohlleben’s aim is to let us see the trees and forests around us not just as “lum­ber fac­to­ries” but as won­drous or­gan­isms, as com­plex as any an­i­mal. Trees are “so­cial be­ings”, com­mu­ni­cat­ing through their roots, thanks to the fun­gal “wood wide web” that per­me­ates the soil, even shar­ing nu­tri­ents in hard times. Wohlleben’s book will change your view of the wooded world.

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