“The Hidden Life of Trees” is filled with many things you you didn’t know goes on when you take a romp through the woods. It is written by a former forester, who went from looking at trees merely in terms of the quality of their hardwood to learning what you will see in this book. Here are ten things I learned from “The Hidden life of trees”
1) Trees communicate slowly with each other via electrical signals sent along their roots.
By slowly, I mean that these signals travel an average of 3 feet per minute, or 180 feet in an hour. By contrast, neurotransmitters will carry a signal across your body at a rate of 200 miles per hour, this difference is magnified when you consider that the distance from your hand to your brain is only a few feet, whereas the difference between one tree and another can be 30 or 40 feet.
2) A faster method they employ is to send pheromones into the air to be carried by the wind. They tend to do this when being attacked.
One example of this is of Acacias in the savanna notice giraffes eating their leaves and so signal by pheromones to the other acacias to make their leaves more bitter. The giraffes counteract this by moving upwind as they eat.
3) Slower growth (due to shade) in a forest leads to harder, denser wood, and a more long-lived tree.
When the tree has access to light, it is incentivized to grow upward as quickly as possible before another tree takes that vacancy (such vacancies are rare and brief in the forest), and as such invest less in the sturdiness of it’s wood. In general, creatures that grow/mature more quickly live shorter lives.
4) Loosely-packed soil is important.
Densely packed soil is far harder for roots to pass through, which invokes a significant metabolic cost on the tree.
5) Trees share nutrients via their root network, particularly to members of the same species/family.
These cooperative networks allow trees to keep each other alive when one gets sick or injured. There was even an example of a tree stump that was kept alive for years by nutrients fed in through the root network. Often they will try to antagonize roots of other species.
6) Mushrooms transmit nutrients and information for the trees but at a hefty price of one third of the nutrients.
One exception to point 5 is when trees are plugged into the mycelial network, as the mushrooms are not as concerned with a single species, but want to keep their clientele alive. Fungi will funnel nutrients between species that are normally enemies.
7) The O2/CO2 ratio of a forest is markedly different between the day/night cycle.
This is just one more reason hiking is better during the day.
8) Beech trees are better evolved for usurping neighbors and working as a team among themselves.
They can go in and around other trees, eventually swallowing them up and stealing their light, until eventually that part of the woods belongs to that tree alone.
9) Oak trees do better in solitary spaces where light is plentiful.
In forests, Oak trees are scrawny things. They grow big and strong when there are no other trees competing for their light. To their credit, oaks are evolved to survive even on the rocky faces of cliffs, places that other trees couldn’t go near.
10) Woodpeckers team up with fungi to devour a tree, where the woodpecker causes the initial wound and breaks open the bark, and after that the fungi slowly infects the wood, breaking it down and making it soft for the woodpecker. Woodpeckers kill trees.
In a way humans are like woodpeckers in that we both kill trees to make our homes. Well, humans kill the tree to make a house, while woodpeckers kill the tree to make an apartment. After a while (maybe a year or so) of moving in, the hole from the woodpecker becomes too large for it to reside in anymore and it moves out. It’s too late for the tree, but on the bright side, a dead tree is an ecosystem in itself, and harbors a significant portion of the biodiversity of the forest.
If you’re interested in an entertaining book that will help you look at the world in a slightly different way, you can’t go wrong with this book!