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The Mysteries of Nature #1

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

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

In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.

Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published May 25, 2015

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About the author

Peter Wohlleben

74 books1,557 followers
Peter Wohlleben is a German forester and author who writes on ecological themes in popular language.

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5 stars
25,508 (36%)
4 stars
26,966 (39%)
3 stars
13,016 (18%)
2 stars
2,795 (4%)
1 star
754 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,365 reviews
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
August 19, 2019
I do recommend reading this book, even though I have given it only two stars! Remember two stars is a book that is OK! Read it for the new and interesting information it contains.

The book reports up-to-date information about the complex, symbiotic networks underlying communication between trees. It stresses that trees should be seen not as separate entities but rather as parts of a community where individuals are aware of their neighbors, relate to them, communicate with them and help each other survive. Absorbing information about particular tree species, plants, fungi, insects and birds is provided. Anyone who appreciates nature, anyone who quite simply enjoys a walk in the woods, will find tidbits of interest.

So what was wrong?

The writing all too often lacks clarity. Ecological and natural processes were not clearly explained. I would follow an argument and not understand why a particular conclusion was drawn. I would see other alternative explanations. One example is the discussion of the respective amounts of CO² stored by young respective old trees. We are told that plants of the same species living in the same soil and under the same conditions do not act in the same manner. An example is given of three oaks that dropped their leaves at different times. What we are told is that this was an “individual choice, a question of character.” Ah huh……..no more explanation than that?! Later in the book it is said that plants of the same species often have widely different genetic composition. (It is interesting to note that the variation is much more limited in animals.) Anyhow, this must be the explanation but this is just my guess. It should have been explained more clearly.

Conclusions drawn should more often have been backed up with reference to particular scientific studies.

The writing reeks of anthropomorphic expressions. This became extremely annoying. It made the entire content of the book feel childish. Yet this is not a book for children; previous knowledge of plant processes is a prerequisite. I will give some examples. Beech trees are referred to as Beech & Co., Spruce as Spruce & Co. Perhaps this is amusing once, but not ten times. “Ouch” is interspersed frequently - when discussing a lesion in bark, the loss of a tree limb, a hit by lightning or any damage done to a tree. The upper branches of trees are called “the executive offices”. “Foolish trees” are said to have not obeyed the “tree etiquette manual”. A volcanic eruption is “the shuffling of cards in the game of life.” We read sentences such as, “If we think back to tree kindergarten……” Maybe it is me, but this type of writing switches the book from being a scientific book of merit to a book of farce. This is a shame. Let me repeat, the book has valuable content.

The content is poorly organized. Similar information is repeated in different chapters. The chapters are exceedingly short with ambiguous titles. Here are examples of titles: Let There Be Light, Street Kids, Burnout andDestination North. On completing a chapter you are left wondering what exactly had been the point of the chapter! What was its message? While there is definitely interesting information it is hard to absorb due to it being poorly organized.

Beside the main themes, what miscellaneous information caught my attention? How woodpeckers make their homes in trees, working on several at the same time and in conjunction with fungi. The parasitic plant mistletoe can kill a tree, but moss and algae aren’t usually dangerous. It is normal that you don’t hear lots of birdsong in forests. The value of and conditions found in “old growth forests” were interesting, as well as how long it takes to establish such forests and how they differ from commercial forests. Leaving fallen trees is important - they make it harder for herbivore to consume undergrowth and they are home to a multitude of beneficial insects. This is just a smattering of assorted information. Each person reading the book will find different points of interest. I don’t regret reading the book, but its organization, and the author’s way of expressing himself could certainly have been improved.

The audiobook narration by Mike Grady was clear and easy to follow. The German words are accurately pronounced.

The author is a German forestry manager, writing on ecological themes. The book closes with a note by Susanne Simard. She is a forest ecologist. She has worked more than thirty years in the field and is currently doing scientific studies such as those discussed in the book. She is at the University of British Colombia in Canada. Her research confirms most of Wohlleben's observations about the communication among trees.
Profile Image for Tharindu Dissanayake.
288 reviews559 followers
January 27, 2021
"Nature is a strict teacher."

I found The Hidden Life of Trees on the philosophy shelf in a bookshop I frequently visit. Given the title, I assumed the book must be an unique read. However, once started, it became clear that most of the content had an environmental science influence. Still, I decided to give the book a try to see if how it'll turn out. And now that I'm done, I'm not sorry about the time I spent. First quarter of the book was enlightening for me in many ways, for, I had almost zero knowledge in this area.

"Whether it's a wolf ripping apart a wild boar or a dear eating an oak seedling, in both cases there is pain and death."

Author has categorized the contents under a series of interesting titles, and each chapter clearly describes the reasons behind the presented schools of thought. Very clear examples describes most of the concepts, so that any reader could easily understand the principles. However, for me, once passed the first third of the book, some of the contents seemed a bit repetitive, and appeared a little too speculative at times. For someone who is deeply familiar with the subject, as the author himself does, those might be easier to grasp/ believe. But the average reader might look at things somewhat skeptically. Still, what I did understand, certainly changed the way I look at Trees (and Forests) in a more profound way than I thought possible, and gave me huge boost to the respect I already had towards the silent giants.

"So many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps we are poorer for having lost a possible explanation or richer for having gained a mystery. But aren't both possibilities equally intriguing?"
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
December 21, 2020
3.75★ If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.
The first time I fell hard for a tree was in the Sequoia National Forest standing at the base of General Sherman. I was always a treehugger in my head but at that moment I was literally a treehugger. If you’ve never gazed up at one of the giants you are missing out on one of the earth’s wonders.
[I don’t know these people but it was wiser to post their picture than mine because it’s not legal to step over that barrier and get so up close and personal—though after reading this book I’m wondering how the General felt about it. We’re talking a Jack and the Beanstalk moment here.]

Back in the hippie days I knew people who talked to their plants, played classical music for them, and claimed there was a silent scream while trimming them back. Apparently these same compassionate people suffered no remorse when they smoked them, nor did I, but I digress so let’s move on.
So I couldn’t resist reading this after watching a fascinating PBS program called What Plants Talk About. Who knew there really is a “wood wide web” in which trees, shrubs, and grasses exchange information. My hippie friends apparently did—it wasn’t the THC after all!
I’m wondering if I should re-shelve Shel Silverstein’s book to the non-fiction section.
I know, I’ve told you nothing about the book because of these flashbacks but isn’t it wonderful when books mess with your head? If you love the natural world there really is some compelling information within and it was easy to digest a few chapters at a time. The sometimes anthropomorphic language may bother the non-treehuggers but it’s understandable that the author did his best to make it accessible for those who might be botany-challenged. The writing style is sometimes repetitive and simplistic and much of this is pure ecology. He champions old growth forests (dear to my heart) and throws in interesting tidbits like the scientific discovery of the improvement in women’s blood pressure, lung capacity, and arterial elasticity while walking in the forest versus excursions into town. His book claimed I would never see trees the same again and that is truth. But even before I read this I've always talked to mine when they blossom and later caress the globes of fruit ripening in the sun. I tell them how beautiful they are and darned if they don’t give me peaches, nectarines, and plums to die for every year. I also voted to legalize marijuana which no longer interests me because of W.I.N.E. Those grapes are a gift and harvesting doesn’t hurt the vines, i.e., no silent screams—win(e) win(e).
November 3, 2019
Q: Trees are very social beings, and they help each other out. (c)

If even 10% of this is true, we live in a mode diverse world than we ever imagined.

Wood-wide-webs, allowing social interation between trees.
Trees in friendship, feeding, hugging and warning each other.
Trees having sense of taste and smell, talking to each other via sound waves of particular wavelengths.
Tree lottery.... Forest etiquette... Only a true lover of all things natural could have come up with such poetic topics to discuss!

Planted forests ... behave more like street kids. (c)
A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it (c)
The trees might be screaming out a dire warning to their colleagues that water levels are running low. (c)
I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be (c)
Profile Image for Matthias.
107 reviews351 followers
June 27, 2017
As humans, daft creatures that we are, we are predisposed to look at where the action is. Swift movements, loud noises and bright colours capture our attention. Maybe this stems from our primitive instinct for survival, allowing us to spot the dangers darting in our general direction. Or it could be the result of our desire to procreate that can't make us look past flaunted flesh and luscious lips. Whatever the reasons, at some point we have begun to think in terms of foreground and background. The former is where the action is, the latter a necessary formality because the void would be too depressing an environment.

During short lapses of my otherwise well-founded modesty I like to think of myself as something other than an utter idiot. In doing so I tend to refer to my habits of reading, writing, cogitating and looking at backgrounds. It's one of the ways to make scrolling through tedious travel pictures slightly more interesting. If a movie's dialogue doesn't ignite my interest, I find enjoyment in looking at the B-actors located in the background of the scene, pretending to go about their daily business, assuming they will remain unseen unless for when they'll point themselves out to friends and family. My smartphone camera comes with a focus that easily jumps in between the different layers of the hubbub I point it towards, making the scenery rich with potential for anecdote and diminishing the borders between foreground and background to a triviality. As someone who appreciates all that I allowed myself to think I was more than just a casual observer.

A dreamy bubble that is now duly burst. One of the many things that Peter Wohlleben's book has taught me is that a lot of phenomena escape my flittering attention as I skip and skedaddle through life. The trees are such a phenomenon. A majestic backdrop to many of my sweetest memories, yet never given the notice they were due.

Our world is full of magical places. These can be found on the ocean's vigorous waves, on a tranquil mountain top or in a lover's embrace. One other such place is under the canopy of trees. In their mystic shade of earthy green some people reach enlightenment, others find fundamental scientific truths and many discover peace. Troubled heads are cleared as they rest on ancient trunks and laden hearts are lightened by the sound of rustling leaves. Why are we not in constant awe for these beings of wonder that should be worthy of worship?

People now will often mock that notion, hacking and slashing their way to prosperity with no regard for the beings that have been here millions of years. Or to recall the way Treebeard put it very emphatically when talking about Orks:

"They come with fire. They come with axes. Gnawing, biting, breaking hacking burning. Destroyers and usurpers, curse them!"

Wohlleben's book The Hidden Life of Trees worked the same way for me as the focus changer does for my camera. This book inaugurated a new sensibility that feels purposeful and asks to be deeply understood. The way I looked at the world and the way I looked at my memories had been tainted by a particular and exclusive interest for human affairs. Wohlleben put the splendour of trees in a sharp and welcome focus, opening my eyes as they welled up with remorseful tears. My perspective changed, and now an everyday city scenery has become a concrete concentration camp for trees forced to live in isolation, cut off from their potential and cut down to serve cityscaping needs.

One redeeming factor is of course the knowledge that trees don't feel. How sweetly we sleep in the comfort of that intuition. Unfortunately, Wohlleben puts some question marks next to that soothing notion.

This author's narration couldn't have been more convincing and captivating and the fact that I automatically read it with David Attenborough's voice in mind can serve to stress that point. The trees become both actors and center stage in this epic tale of survival against all odds. Their struggle for an inner balance as they grow, mend their wounds, spread their roots and branches, drop their leaves, drink the water and capture the sunlight makes for a truly engaging read. The race between a fungus eating its way to the heartwood and a tree growing healthy bark and moist material to stop the enemy in its tracks is more thrilling than a car chase, despite the impression that the timescale on which trees live make such matters less pressing. Yet they are pressing, and a matter of life and death. A tree can spend hundreds of years on its death bed but still serve a purpose, procreate and provide energy for its siblings and offspring. And when reading about this struggle for survival and growth, I could not help but discern a will for life that stirred within these entities.

It's not just the trees that are the protagonists of this book, but also the tiny creatures that live on and around them. I've mentioned the fungi with which they have a love-hate relationship. Trees are also in what one might call a complicated relationship with small rodents, birds and insects, who sometimes help them in the dissemination of their seeds but can also wound them fatally. When caterpillars attack, reinforcements are called in with aromatic signals to deal with them. Ants are running their own brand of livestock farms as they herd aphids for the sugarry residues they leave behind when they feed off the leaves. The book is chock-full of such anecdotes that show us how trees are in fact megacities teeming with life.

The biggest reveal came quite early in this book: trees communicate. As an introvert I didn't find that piece of information especially salient, but it does show that more goes on in the deep forests than a mere survival of the fittest. Trees often work together as a community, protecting and supporting each other, sending each other signals and goods. They use a "wood wide web" of roots and fungal chords that allow the transportation of nutrients from one tree to the other. They produce scents that get picked up by their cousins urging them to put up protective barriers before the enemy arrives.

At the start of this book I had some severe difficulties accepting that the author would bestow certain qualities on trees that they couldn't possibly have, such as the capacity to feel, know, remember and be happy. Even after reading the book I have to admit this sometimes feels like a stretch, but that's really not the message one should remember from this review. The fact of the matter is that we don't know how far the sentience of these beings reaches. The latest scientific observations at least hint at the possibility that this author, which some might consider little more than a romantic treehugger, could be on to something.

Even if trees don't feel like how we do, the realisation that trees are the hands that have been feeding us for many years should at least be a lesson in humility and inspire us to stop gnawing at them. Trees don't only provide us with the oxygen we breathe but serve many other vital purposes enumerated in this book, ranging from biodiversity to inland water supply. It's not just a matter of cutting down old trees and planting new ones, either. Balance is key, and such a balance can only occur on a timescale we can hardly grasp.

The trees that provided the pages for this book are the prophets of their kind, emissaries of a lifeform we've been neglecting. So don't feel guilty about getting a hard copy. Pick one up, go sit under a tree if you can still find one, read it and look up to a new world.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
January 3, 2020
“An organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life.”
― Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees


Peter Wohlleben has written a beautiful book on trees. He captures the imagination and translates his vision well. Like many science books for the masses he takes a good deal of information and distills it well for the amateur forester and part-time tree-hugger. The only reason I give this book four stars and not five is because his biggest strength is also, perhaps, his biggest (or most important) weakness.

I worry about the anthropomorphizing of animals, fungus, or plant. It is a strength because it creates empathy. It works. I read that a tree might feel pain, communicates, nutures its young, takes care of the sick, works together, counts, etc., and I am (hopefully, if I have any empathy in me) feel a bit more hesitant to abuse or misuse trees.

BUT, my concern with this type of treatment is two fold: 1) trees aren't human. By focusing on the parts of trees (or forests) that appear to have human traits, we are putting ourselves at the center. We are creating (or strengthening the notion rather) that WE are the freaking center of the living universe. Those trees they are important because they LOOK/ACT like us. It is a slippery slope. Do the benefits outweigh the costs in the short or long term? I don't know. I just know there is a danger here. 2) perhaps, by giving these behaviors (communication, counting, etc) words that have a very significant meaning for man, we are actually NOT communicating what they are doing that is unique. Maybe communication or counting or nurturing ISN'T what they are doing and these human behavior metaphors are not allowing these amazing trees to be viewed as amazing AND alien enough. This isn't the same, but it for me is similar to comparing fungi to plants. Yes, there might be similarities, but these are two completely separate kingdoms. Sometimes, we can mix them together (in a salad perhaps), but some metaphors don't do justice to just how funky and beautiful and DIFFERENT these kingdoms really are. Perhaps, by making trees seem more human we are doing a long-term disservice by NOT making them seem alien enough.

And, perhap, I'm just wrong. I'm willing to accept that too.

Oh, and this is just Part I of Wohlleben's 'The Mysteries of Nature trilogy'. The follow-up books are:

2. The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World - my review
3. The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation - my review
Profile Image for Francisco.
Author 22 books54.9k followers
March 18, 2017
You can read this for the science or, like me, for how it helped me see. We are always in need of books that part the curtains of the familiar, the stuff we walk around and take for granted. In this case trees, all around us, the beings who help us breathe. It turns out they compete and cooperate and communicate, they form alliances and have processes that we are hard call to name so we must resort to words like grief and love. If you are non-scientific like me, or even if you are, you will be thankful for the seeing. You will see better. It will start with trees - you'll notice the wrinkles in their bark, the wounds made by woodpeckers who cleansed them of insects but not without pain. You will notice how a pear tree curved sideways to give more light to the cherry tree, which a clumsy gardener planted too close together. What you will see is life, all around you. You will be startled with how much life there is and maybe even be amazed at your own spark, a tiny but real part of the whole. I also liked entering into a different time consciousness- the time that trees inhabit. If you were an oak and not in danger of being cut down you'd be looking forward to finally being a toddler a hundred years from now, a teenager without parental restraints in a mere two hundred. Each year a miniature life with deaths and births. It is okay to go slow. This year I'll grow a half an inch. But oh, how good it is to feel being alive and to make little more life for others.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
May 23, 2017
Peter Wohlleben has written a wonderful little book about trees. He is a forester; he manages a forest in Germany. He must do a wonderful job, as he has amazing insights into the life of trees and tree society.

Did I say society? Yes, trees communicate with each other, nurture their young, and aid the ill when disease or distress strikes. Does this sound unlikely? Well, it sounded a bit over-the-top to me, until I started reading this book. Forests are superorganisms that exchange nutrients through inter-connected root systems. They are a bit analogous to ant colonies. Wohlleben cites evidence of a 400 year-old beech tree that was actually being kept alive by neighboring beech trees!

Acacia trees warn other nearby trees of giraffes who are feeding on them. As a result, the pre-warned trees pump toxic substances into their leaves within a period of a few minutes, causing the giraffes to leave the area. The giraffes walked 100 yards away, bypassing nearby trees before continuing to feed. They chewed on trees that were either oblivious to the warnings, or they walked upwind. These warnings are sent using electrical impulses that travel 1/3rd of an inch per second. These impulses are propagated along filaments of fungi.

When trees sense insects eating their leaves, the trees can classify their saliva. Then they release pheromones that summon specific insect predators. So, it seems that trees actually have a sense of taste.

I learned how older, mature trees nurture their young. Their enormous canopies shut out most of the light from the shorter trees, preventing the young ones from growing too fast. This enables the young trees to grow strong, dense wood that will eventually, in a hundred or two hundred years, to grow big and strong themselves. However, in forests that are overly managed, some of the bigger trees are culled, allowing the smaller trees to grow too fast. Then they never reach their potential height as they age.

I learned why conifer trees grow needles and are "evergreen", while deciduous trees shed their leaves each fall. It would almost seem like conifers are "smart", as they do not waste energy growing new leaves each spring. But there is a reason for all this. Evergreens grow needles that are shed only once every few years. Each fall the needles develop a waxy covering that impedes evaporation over the winter. The needles have very little surface area for catching the wind and snow. Deciduous leaves, however, do catch the wind, and are a handicap during storms and snowfalls. They are dropped in the fall to prevent the trees from bending and breaking in a big wind-storm or under a heavy layer of snow.

This book was originally written in German and translated into English; the translation is excellent. The book is not only informative, but is fun to read. Wohlleben makes analogies between trees and animals, and these analogies help shed insight into the slow, ancient life of trees. The book is not written in a humorous tone; it is written in a wonderful down-to-earth style. Although Wohlleben is not a scientist, he discusses the latest research and it is a joy to learn about his points of view.
Profile Image for Andrew.
573 reviews166 followers
April 21, 2016
Tolkien was right. Trees live in the sloooooow lane (imagine healing a skin wound over decades) but what lives they lead! They have incredible social networks, share food, rear children, and care for the ill. Yes, there's some anthropomorphization here, but still...

When evolution has figured out how to tell time and talk to one another, you wish the trees could also talk to us and tell their stories. Peter Wohlleben has come pretty close to speaking for them and I will never look at trees the same again.

Or Ents.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
October 15, 2020
“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with larger machines.”

This is an extremely emotive book and it does wonders at humanising trees and making them seem ever more real, fascinating and valuable.

It has a strong environmentalist message, one that seeks to install within the reader a renewed sense of value for the world around them and the trees we share the Earth with. It's a book that wants you to think about your actions and to consider that there is a world that is not necessarily perceptible to the human senses, but it is a world we should acknowledge nevertheless.

I love the message behind the work even if it defeats itself in the final chapter when it states that trees are a commodity. We should respect them, but use them still. And this is an idea I don't like. It needs to be more than respect and cultivation but a way of coexisting and making our urban spaces more green and natural.

Overall, it's a very well written book but one that does become a little dry after a while and shoots itself in the foot.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
February 9, 2021

“We read in fairy tales of trees with human faces, trees that can talk, and sometimes walk. This enchanted forest is the kind of place, I feel sure, that Peter Wohlleben inhabits. His deep understanding of the lives of trees, reached through decades of careful observation and study, reveals a world so astonishing that if you read his book, I believe that forests will become magical places for you, too.”

”The electrical impulses that pass through the roots of trees, for example, move at the slow rate of one third of an inch per second.”

Translated from the German version, which was published in 2015, Wohlleben shares with the reader the “secrets” that foresters have known for a while. Trees live in, have, a relationship with the trees around them beyond the fact that they are trees in the same location. They retain memories that help them through the seasons (not to catalog the wrongs done to them), they have a sense of taste, smell, ‘hearing’ … just not exactly like we do.

Many years ago, the first time I went to Maui, when I was in Lahaina I was fascinated with the Banyan trees, their interconnected root system, and their unique appearance. When I first heard about this book, I thought of those trees and I knew I wanted to read it.

This isn’t overly heavy in the scientific aspect of trees, some sections flow with a lightness and ease that most people can easily relate to, and other sections get into a deeper peek, but overall this is a relatively undemanding read. If anything, it does require that you set aside everything you’ve ever believed about trees.

The truth lies somewhere between chopping down a forest and believing that doesn’t hurt anything and that an aggravated apple tree can throw apples at you if you pick apples without politely asking, first.

”When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines.”

One would hope that would be true.

Trees have memories, they have a sense of taste, and smell, they can feel, and through means other than eyes and ears, they can see and hear.

”The saliva of each species is different, and trees can math the saliva to the insect. Indeed, the match can be so precise that trees can release pheromones that summon specific beneficial predators.”

”For if they can identify saliva, they must also have a sense of taste.”

There is a bit of humour in this, and knowledge to be gained - this is research-based information, but it’s also not a book about the science of the study of trees, it’s more along the lines of someone who is so enthusiastic about what he’s telling you that sometimes, every once in a while, he might digress a bit, and lose some readers for a few minutes. Overall, I found this to be fascinating, if not exactly everyone’s cup of tea.

I kinda loved this. I learned a lot that is easily retainable, and know where to look for the answers. I loved the author’s gushingly boyish tree-crush-ing, but really, who can blame him for his enthusiasm? This was a charmingly enchanting read which benefitted by Wohlleben’s charisma and enthusiasm for the topic.

"We lived on a street where the tall elm shade
Was as green as the grass and as cool as a blade
That you held in your teeth as we lay on our backs
Staring up at the blue and the blue stared back"

-- Only a Dream / lyrics & song Mary Chapin Carpenter

The house I grew up in had woods to one side as far as you could see, and woods behind as far as you could see. A few houses on our street, more streets in our neighborhood, with one lake and trees that surrounded the neighborhood. When I’ve been back there, it all pretty much looks the same. The tree that I climbed so high that I couldn’t get down by myself still stands there, the initials of almost every boy or girl carved into it with a + and another set of initials is now so high up on the tree I can’t see it.

"I used to believe we were just like those trees
We'd grown just as tall and as proud as we pleased
With our feet on the ground and our arms in the breeze
Under a sheltering sky"

"Twirl me about, and twirl me around
Let me grow dizzy and fall to the ground
And when I look up at you looking down,
Say it was only a dream"

-- Only a Dream / lyrics & song Mary Chapin Carpenter

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Joe Krakovsky.
Author 5 books203 followers
August 10, 2021
A walk in the forest will never be the same for me again. Even though I may travel down the same beaten path, what I will see will be a whole new world!

"The Hidden Life of Trees" taught me more about nature than what I learned in school. Did you know that trees can activate a defense? Sort of reminded me of that movie where trees gave off a chemical which made people kill themselves, but that isn't what happens here. Did you know that trees in a real old forest are healthier than those on a tree farm? What is a ripe old age for a healthy tree? This surprised me. Which tree has a better chance of survival, one that is in a clearing with plenty of sunlight and water or one in a dark forest? What about that tree the city planted along the roadway and watered and fed, will it have a better chance of survival then the one growing by chance in the woods? State why for extra points.

Written by a tree expert (forester) this book will amaze you.
Profile Image for Simon Clark.
Author 1 book4,979 followers
March 31, 2019
I really, really wanted to like this book. Ever since I can remember I've felt at home in the woods, with trees exuding a reassuring aura of safety. Woods are calm, quiet, clement places for me. Yet despite this affiliation I know next to nothing about trees, so it was a delight to have this book recommended to me.
Unfortunately that's roughly when the delight stopped. Perhaps I am the wrong person to review this book, as I've been used to scientific literature in entirely different - and more continuous - forms, but I found this book immensely frustrating to read. Wohlleben acts as an impish, endlessly curious guide to his forests (being a forester rather than an academic), and his genuine glee in discussing his charges is infectious. You get the sense that he attributes very real personalities to the species in his forests, and considers his interactions with the trees almost like interactions with colleagues or even friends. This much I very enjoyed a great deal.
What was so frustrating that I abandoned the book before the end was the form his enthusiasm was communicated in. Wohlleben is like an old man in the pub, very eager to tell you about his particular area of interest, but does so in short anecdotes - little factoids that he thinks are cool. And they are! But they always leave you wanting more. Each chapter is frustratingly short, just developing a subject enough in a hand-wavy way before moving on to another. The book gives you intellectual whiplash with constant stops and starts.
This is a fascinating, paradigm-shifting subject. But oh boy is this not the way it should be communicated.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,787 reviews674 followers
June 1, 2021
Let’s read the title again: okay?

One fascinating topic is the interrelationship among trees and fungi. “To enter into a partnership with one of the many thousand kinds of fungi, a tree must be very open – literally – because the fungal threads grow into its soft root hairs. There’s no research into whether this is painful or not.”

It’s a fascinating topic and it allows Wohlleben to speculate on many things but there is no bright line in many cases between fact and extrapolated speculation. I’m not an arboriculturalist (arborist) so its easy to go with the flow and accept everything that is put forward. Are you willing to do so? Even if you are, you will not learn as much as the title promises about feeling and communication among trees.

On the other hand, I like his speculation and it is often inspirational. And that is the dilemma.
Profile Image for Tony.
919 reviews1,556 followers
June 19, 2017
My father’s father was a legendary grafter of trees. So I was told. He died a few years before I sprouted so I never knew him. But my father, who had a sense of wonder at the way things worked, learned the art; and so, I was able to see a peach tree that had one branch full of plums; and he grafted a white dogwood to a pink one. No reason. Just to show he could. This technique, like many mechanical things, was not passed on to the next generation.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Dr. Suzanne Simard, who helped discover the maternal instincts in trees, describes mother trees as dominant trees widely linked to other trees in the forest through their fungal-root connections. These trees pass their legacy on to the next generation and exert their influence in the upbringing of the youngsters. “My” small beech trees, which have by now been waiting for at least eighty years, are standing under the mother trees that are about two hundred years old – the equivalent of forty-year-olds in human terms. The stunted trees can probably expect another two hundred years of twiddling their thumbs before it is finally their turn. The wait time is, however, made bearable. Their mothers are in contact with them through their root systems, and they pass along sugar and other nutrients. You might even say they are nursing their babies.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

My father, the occasional grafter, decided to get a mimosa tree. This was odd because I grew up in a place not known for its ornamentals. The houses were just a few feet apart and backyards tended to be repositories for rusting junk, chained dogs and old tires. It was not a sweet-smelling place. But our backyard had a mimosa tree as a centerpiece. Which was pretty cool for a pre-adolescent boy, because you could do this:


Eventually, the mimosa got sick and died. A life lesson. It was removed. It was then my father decided he would like to grow figs.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----

Mimosas are tropical creeping herbs. They make particularly good research subjects, because it is easy to get them a bit riled up and they are easier to study in the laboratory than trees are. When they are touched, they close their feathery little leaves to protect themselves. Gagliano designed an experiment where individual drops of water fell on the plants’ foliage at regular intervals. At first, the anxious leaves closed immediately, but after a while, the little plants learned there was no danger of damage from the water droplets. After that, the leaves remained open despite the drops. Even more surprising for Gagliano was the fact that the mimosas could remember and apply their lesson weeks later, even without further tests.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

I love trees, but I can not cut a 7-iron:

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

A marine chemist at the Hokkaido University discovered that leaves falling into streams and rivers leach acids into the ocean that stimulate the growth of plankton, the first and most important building block in the food chain. More fish because of the forest? The researcher encouraged the planting of more trees in coastal areas, which did, in fact, lead to higher yields for fisheries and oyster growers.

----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Once upon a time, when I still worked, some no-goodnik lumber company decided to play fast and loose with the language in some ancient deeds and snuck onto a portion of the Allegheny National Forest – or as much as you can sneak while operating very large excavating machinery – and helped themselves to a heaping harvest of very tall, very old timber. It became my responsibility to see what could be done about that. This was very different from my usual assignments, and I’ve always liked different. The deeds went back to William Penn and were a twisted tale of courses and metes and bounds.

As part of the investigation, I was invited into the forest. It was early May. The guy from the Department of Natural Resources said it was an active time for timber rattlesnakes so be sure to wear high boots. You know, having fun with city slickers. But, oh, my boots are well-traveled and the investigator who came with me was a seasoned hunter. There was one more person to complete our foursome: a forester. It is the forester that I want to talk about.

The forester looked very much like the character actor, Richard Farnsworth:

Only with a beaten-up old ball cap from some feed company on his head. Kindly, yet not smiling, his face was worn and his eyes – HIS EYES – were sad, yet hopeful. Which is hard to do. He would not know how to lie.

We trudged through the woods to where the loss and damage was. For you can’t remove large trees from the forest with heavy equipment without nicking other trees. The forester showed us the slashes to the trunks and then, explaining how the injury would eventually kill the tree, he circled the circumference with his arms. He was a different kind of tree hugger.

The tour done, we repaired to a truck stop for lunch. Big-boy, buffet style. We piled our plates except for the forester, who took only a vegetable or two, citing a troublesome stomach, something chronic. The other two fellows were talkers, and they were trying to top each other with one wild anecdote after the other. The forester said nothing, but was looking at me, I guess trying to get my measure.

The other two guys went back to the buffet, I thought maybe to set some kind of record. The forester and I continued to sit across the table from one another. He kept looking at me even though we didn’t speak. It dawned on me that he was from the forest and I was not. But surely there is a common ground.

And after many minutes, his eyes never leaving mine, he swallowed, and said, “You full-leaf down there yet?” And I looked him square and replied, “Everything but the oaks.” And he paused, ever so slightly, and then gave me just the slightest hint of a nod. And it was as if I had passed some test, some test that meant more than all the tests academia and suits and skirts could ever devise.

And I will remember that conversation until the day I die.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
417 reviews366 followers
July 15, 2021
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben is a fascinating book.  I don’t think I’ll look at trees in the same way – these beautiful living things have more in their toolkit than one could ever imagine. Wolhlleben is a forest manager of over 20 years experience working for the German Forestry Commission, he now runs an environment-friendly woodland in Germany.
Trees are social beings, they communicate with each other, they help each other, chuck around chemicals to assist with the deterrence of pests and they depend on each other.

Forests are indeed a formidable force – from my understanding, this is when trees are at their strongest, in a group. This is even more so in ‘old growth’ forests – in other words, forests left to their own devices for many, many centuries.
There are so many interesting and even mind-blowing bits of information here, but the one which really made me go – “YIKES”!!!!! Was learning about the communication network underground, not just the roots intermingling and exchanging various elements and molecules (such as Carbon and Sugars) but the World Wide Fungal Web. Yep, the fungal mycelia that entwine themselves amongst the roots, a subterranean network, neither plant or animal – serving as a conduit between trees to communicate, and help each other. The fungal biomass is MASSIVE. It is the largest group of living organisms on the planet!!!!!! One teaspoon of soil has metres and metres of fungal elements. I don’t know, facts like that make my head spin - nature is truly mind blowing.
This is just one example of the things you’ll learn in this interesting book. Whether it be woodpeckers, bacterial infections, wind, moisture, soil, fungi, pests, logging, young trees, old trees, chlorophyll – or many, many more topics, I think most people will find this journey fascinating.
These lumbering giants even have senses – they hear, see, taste….. just not like we do. Perhaps we, as humanity, should respect these ancient giants – they’ve been around for as long as life itself.

Maybe one day we'll afford them the same respect we should, to all living things.
4 Stars

Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,634 followers
December 29, 2019
Peter Wohlleben loves trees and wants us to love them too. I read this book because I wanted, in my quest of reading Pulitzer's, to more fully appreciate The Overstory and I knew this was a good way to get immersed. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World is a beautiful book about how trees communicate, what makes them unique in nature, and how man has impacted their development, their lifestyles and their evolution.

Now, the idea of trees "talking" will perhaps have some skeptics rolling their eyes, but the author makes a good case for how this is done via electrical impulses, chemical emissions from leaves, transmission of messages via fungi, etc. His passion for the subject is palpable: "Personally, I think the swirling cocktail of tree talk is the reason we enjoy being out in the forest so much. At least when we are out in undisturbed forests. Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage (in Germany) always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home." (p. 223). He demonstrates that, in fact, there are no forests in Europe which are older than the 1600s due to the massive deforestation during the Middle Ages and to the end of the Renaissance when the population exploded and forests were converted into farmland to support the increasing demand for food and building materials.

What makes his study so fascinating is in how trees are so closely interlocked with other seemingly unrelated pieces of ecology: "Katsuhido Matsunaga, a marine chemist at the Hokkaido University, discovered that leaves falling into streams and rivers leak acids into the ocean that stimulate the growth of plankton, the first and most important building blocks in the food chain. More fish because of the forest? The researched encouraged the planting of more trees in coastal areas, which did, in fact, lead to higher yields for fisheries and oyster growers." (p. 245)

Wohelleben's greatest argument is for preserving forests for many reasons. One of which is soil preservation. In areas where trees have been planted over previously cultivated land (even if the farming was centuries before), a square mile of forest can lose 290 tons of soil due to rainstorms as opposed to only 1 to 14 tons in an undisturbed forest. (p. 87) And less soil, means less nutrition and fewer trees. And in the lost soil, "There are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the planet." (p. 86). These include micro-organisms, fungi, and bacteria - an immense diversity. And speaking of diversity, he also mentions a study from 2009, when a researcher Dr Martin Gossner sprayed a 600 year-0ld, 51m tall tree with an insecticide and found "2041 animals belonging to 257 different species" (p. 132).

I have an aunt in Kentucky who made me aware of the horrible emerald ash borer and how all the ashes on her ranch (and indeed all the ashes in the eastern US) are being destroyed - this crisis having started in 2002 following the unintended introduction of the insect on wooden pallets from a Chinese importer (see the beautifully illustrated article here. Wohlleben mentions a similar crisis, but due to a fungal virus, that destroyed Britain's ash trees. I wonder why nature suddenly decided it was time to try to eliminate the beautiful ash trees...

I truly loved reading this book and hope to share more time in the forest with my kids so that they can appreciate how important it is to preserve this critical piece of our ecological heritage. And, maybe I will convince my daughter of how sad it is for the conifer forest to have an amputated tree in our living room every Christmas when, in fact, this tree (now dying alone) would want to be back home with its familiars. I learned an enormous amount of things about tree habitats and characteristics and feel that I need to reread this book regularly to keep all the facts straight. And I need to finish the amazing The Overstory!
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews388 followers
January 10, 2017
If you've ever pondered the thought experiment in which a tree falls in an empty forest and the sound of its fall is in limbo, Peter Wohlleben's nonfiction might be for you. Quite simply, the sound would be heard, according to Wohlleben, because trees are able to interpret sound and communicate with one another. Not only that, Wohlleben attributes memory and thought to the stationary beings which most of us have long considered non-sentient. This is a book full of revelations about trees and asks the reader (or in my case, listener) to reevaluate their understanding of the woody sentinels. The Hidden Life of Trees is a scientific book that attempts to broaden long held perception and enrich our interactions with forest.

It is also a book that manages to talk about trees for much longer than you would have ever thought possible.

Despite my score, this is a good book. It seems well researched, Wohlleben is obviously interested and excited about his field, and it brought to me knowledge I didn't have prior to listening to it. But...trees just aren't my thing. This brought me back to first year biology classes where a month or more was spent elucidating the inner workings of plants. It was one of those fields, of which there were many more to follow, that was nice to know about, but never piqued my interest like the fields of human physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology.

So, even though I was pleased with some of the knowledge I took from this book, I can't say that I was really gripped by it. As I took another long commute, I found myself easily losing the thread of the narration when Wohlleben waxed lyrical about a particular species of tree. In short, I spent a lot of time bored with this book. When a novel fact was introduced to me, I thought, Hey, that's kind of neat, and then drifted back into relative boredom.

But, there's a pretty good chance that another reader would really be into this one! I mean, just because I don't love learning about trees doesn't mean that you won't find a lot to like here. Certainly, when I take a walk in the woods later today I'll be thinking about how trees have a lot more going on than I would have thought a week ago. With that said, Wohlleben posits morale considerations for trees that I wasn't entirely able to buy by the end of the book. So: if you are really interested in learning more about trees, I'd say go for it! If you're more like me, then I'd probably pass on this one.

Thanks to Anne Collini for this recommendation which I appreciate in spite of having not loved the book!
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,854 followers
December 4, 2018
Maybe the tree huggers are right.

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

The communication network of plants and especially trees is highly sophisticated. Solitary or only annual growing plants do not approach the complexity of the papermaking base stock. Due to their root system and their size, trees are predestined for a key position. They communicate with each other via fragrances and warn each other of pests. This causes the warned to produce chemical substances for defense. If a human deforestation team is approaching, that is lost love effort.

The interaction with the fungi, microorganisms, insects, and birds is a balanced system. Always a little bit in the balance between symbiosis, parasitism and the struggle for life and death. The shedding of the foliage or the constant needling promotes the formation of a favorite microflora in the soil for each plant. The wood wide web helps with communication. Forests are like multi-layered cities, in which, as in human metropolises above and below the earth, complex interwoven processes take place. Superorganisms in which the engine of evolution runs at full speed.

Not everything is just sunshine for photosynthesis. It is also about disputing your competitors' living space. However, under the same species, there is the formation of communities of interest that balance the ecosystem. The monocultures of spruces, oil palms, tropical fruits, etc., have none of the positive characteristics such as biodiversity and suitable communication networks. There are more uniform deserts where only a few insects and animals can live. An ever-smaller gene pool of a few genetically engineered plants carries the risk of food crises when new pests emerge.

Plants that fuse with state-building insects are taking a more extreme route of specialization. They make the ants dependent on their nectar and mix in a secret ingredient. This will make the ants biochemically unable to digest other similar foods. They become dependent on the tree and threaten to starve without him. In gratitude for this dubious symbiosis, the ants living in the tree defend it against any competitor as soon as they feel a shock or detect it other otherwise.
There are still many variants of these symbioses and cooperations. However, you know. Rainforest deforestation. Both insect researchers and plant researchers have had bad luck and unfortunately are too late.

Selfishness is no unknown factor in the tree kingdom. If eucalyptus or other trees require fires for reproduction, they promote them. They shed leaves all year round, leaving plenty of scales and allowing flammable gases to escape. Of course, it will also be beneficial to keep the annoying competition in this way in check as a side effect. Many trees with such a temperament are fireproofed as adults. They have to make their infants fire under the butts so they can get in the way.

Suppose that it turns out in the future that all plants have feelings. A little pain reception. Alternatively, even emotions. They fear the chainsaw, the salad fork or the weedkiller. Fruits and vegetables would, therefore, be babies. Green and too soon picked fetuses. Then primarily the parent model of the plants is to be criticized. To pack your children in a tasty garnish, so that they are eaten, is pedagogically borderline. For the ethics of humans, it would raise the same dilemma as with meat consumption, vegetarianism, and veganism. In a way, it would be even worse, because the crops will continue to suffer, become weaker, and eventually be tortured to death with knives.

Every time the vegetable compartment opens or someone goes to the fruit bowl, everyone screams in panic. When they start frowning and rotting, it is like slow starvation and gangrene for humans.
What should people eat then? The last thing that would be missing then would be that all microorganisms turned out to be sentient. Then the last alternative for the production of food by biofermenter would also be ethically biased.
People are unable to understand the language of the flora. They can not automatically conclude, they would not speak and feel too.

Vielleicht haben die Baumumarmer doch recht.

Das Kommunikationsnetzwerk von Pflanzen und insbesondere Bäumen ist hochkomplex. Solitäre oder nur jährlich wachsende Pflanzen kommen an die Diffizilität des Grundstoffs für die Papierherstellung nicht heran. Durch ihr Wurzelwerk und ihre Größe sind Bäume für eine Schlüsselstellung prädestiniert. Sie kommunizieren mittels Duftstoffen miteinander und warnen einander vor Schädlingen. Das veranlasst die Gewarnten, chemische Stoffe zur Abwehr zu produzieren. Wenn ein menschliches Rodungstrupp naht, ist das aber verlorene Liebesmüh.
Die Interaktion mit den Pilzen, Mikroorganismen, Insekten und Vögeln ist ein ausbalanciertes System. Immer ein wenig in der Waagschale zwischen Symbiose, Parasitentum und Kampf auf Leben und Tod. Das Abwerfen des Blattwerks oder das stetige Nadeln fördern die Ausbildung einer für die jeweilige Pflanze günstigen Mikroflora im Boden. Das wood wide web hilft bei der Kommunikation. Wälder sind wie vielschichtige Städte, in denen wie in menschlichen Metropolen über und unter der Erde komplex miteinander verwobene Prozesse ablaufen. Superorganismen, in denen der Motor der Evolution auf Hochtouren läuft.

Nicht alles ist eitel Sonnenschein für die Fotosynthese. Es geht auch darum, den Konkurrenten Lebensraum streitig zu machen. Aber unter derselben Art kommt es zur Bildung von Interessensgemeinschaft, die für eine Balance des Ökosystems sorgen. Die Monokulturen aus Fichten, Ölpalmen, Südfruchten, usw haben keine der positiven Eigenschaften wie Biodiversität und gute Kommunikationsnetzwerke mehr. Es sind mehr uniforme Wüsten, in denen nur wenige Insekten und Tiere leben können. Ein immer kleinerer Genpool mit wenigen, gentechnisch veränderten Pflanzen trägt das Risiko von Nahrungsmittelkrisen in sich, wenn neue Schädlinge auftauchen.

Pflanzen, die mit Staaten bildenden Insekten fusionieren, gehen einen extremeren Weg der Spezialisierung. Sie machen die Ameisen von ihrem Nektar abhängig und mischen eine geheime Zutat hinein. Dadurch werden die Ameisen biochemisch unfähig gemacht, andere ähnliche Nahrung zu verdauen. Sie werden von dem Baum abhängig und drohen ohne ihn zu verhungern. Als Dank für diese zweifelhafte Symbiose verteidigen die im Baum lebenden Ameisen diesen gegen jeden Konkurrenten, sobald sie eine Erschütterung spüren.
Es dürfte noch etliche Varianten dieser Symbiosen und Kooperationen geben. Aber sie wissen ja. Regenwaldabholzung. Da haben sowohl Insektenforscher als auch Pflanzenforscher Pech gehabt und sind leider zu spät dran.

Egoismus ist auch im Baumreich kein unbekannter Faktor. Wenn für Eukalyptus oder andere Bäume Brände für die Fortpflanzung wichtig sind, fördern sie diese. Sie werfen das ganze Jahr Laub ab, damit viel Zunder vorhanden ist und lassen brennbare Gase entweichen. Sicher wird es auch günstig sein, auf diese Art zusätzlich als Nebeneffekt die lästige Konkurrenz im Zaum zu halten. Viele Bäume mit solch hitzigen Temperament sind selbst als Erwachsene feuerfest. Und den Babies muss man Feuer unter dem Hintern machen, damit sie in die Gänge kommen.

Angenommen, es stellt sich in Zukunft heraus, dass alle Pflanzen Gefühle haben. Ein wenig Schmerzrezeption. Oder sogar Emotionen. Sie fürchten die Motorsäge, die Salatgabel oder das Unkrautvernichtungsmittel.
Obst und Gemüse wären demnach Babies. Grün und zu früh gepflücktes fast noch Föten. Dann ist primär das Elternmodell der Pflanzen zu kritisieren. Die eigenen Kinder in eine wohlschmeckende Garnierung zu verpacken, damit sie gefressen werden, ist pädagogisch grenzwertig.
Für die Ethik der Menschen würde es das gleiche Dilemma wie bei Fleischkonsum, Vegetarismus und Veganismus aufwerfen. Es wäre in gewisser Hinsicht noch schlimmer, weil die Pflanzen geerntet noch lange leiden, schwächer werden und schließlich mit Messern zu Tode gefoltert werden. Jedes Mal, wenn sich das Gemüsefach öffnet oder jemand zur Obstschale geht, schreien alle in Panik. Wenn sie verrunzeln und zu faulen beginnen, ist es wie langsames Verhungern und Wundbrand für Menschen.
Was sollten die Menschen dann noch essen? Fehlte nur noch, dass sich auch alle Mikroorganismen als empfindungsfähig herausstellen würden. Dann wäre die letzte Alternative zur Herstellung von Nahrung mittels Biofermenter auch ethisch vorbelastet.
Menschen sind unfähig, die Sprache der Flora zu verstehen. Daraus kann nicht automatisch der Umkehrschluss gezogen werden, sie würden nicht sprechen und fühlen.
Profile Image for da AL.
371 reviews373 followers
June 15, 2019
Fascinating info on how trees are a billion times more amazing than I imagined, swoon-worthy prose, fantastic audiobook performer!
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
September 9, 2018
I was inspired to read this book after reading The Overstory by Richard Powers, to learn more about the science of trees.

Included are how trees communicate, migration patterns, how and why trees hibernate, their place in ecosystems and more. Wohlleben manages a forest in Germany and directly addresses some of the misinformation he learned in forestry classes.

The tone of the book and its translation is very popular in tone, which made me question the science, but he does seem to cite a lot of literature. Wohlleben summarizes a lot of the research since the 1997 article in Nature about mycorrhizal fungal networks by Suzanne Simard and others. (She writes the afterword in this book,which I interpret as scientific endorsement.) So most of it isn't his work, but has informed his work.
Profile Image for Claudia.
960 reviews555 followers
September 1, 2021
Remember the Ents from LOTR? That's how I envisioned Peter Wohlleben's trees in this book. Although most of the info provided are heavily backed up with scientific data, it is his interpretation and writing style that makes this book to appear not entirely scientifical.

Nonetheless, it's a highly interesting book, and given the light style of writing, I gulped it down like a fantasy story. Most of the facts I knew from Stefano Mancuso's "The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior" and Merlin Sheldrake's Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures, but I have discovered some new ones as well.

I particularly found most fascinating the info about the quacking aspen Pando; I knew about The Great Banyan but had no idea there are others too, only in reverse.

All in all, a very enjoyable, informative, and easy to read book. And I can guarantee that you'll root for the trees.
Profile Image for Ayse_.
155 reviews73 followers
May 29, 2018
I am confused about this one. It started quite interestingly but gradually lost its joyous nature. After the 4th chapter it turned into a heavy, didactic plant biology/botany book. I felt like a freshman without enthusiasm, and decided to use the book as a reference.

In the first three sections one can feel the writer`s enthusiasm for the trees. I liked the part `Final Road to Modernity` where he shares his view on the order in nature and the phylogenetic tree. He emphasizes how related we all are, coming from the same ancestor.

If you have a special interest in learning the lineages, evolution and biology of trees you may enjoy this more.
Profile Image for João Carlos.
646 reviews277 followers
September 8, 2016

Peter Wohlleben fotografia de Gordon Welters para "The New York Times"

Peter Wohlleben (n. 1964) é um guarda-florestal alemão que trabalha para o município de Hummel, na região de Eifel, sudoeste da Alemanha.
O livro ”A Vida Secreta das Árvores” é o resultado da actividade e do fascínio que Peter Wohlleben tem pela floresta; não, necessariamente, pela silvicultura moderna apenas interessada na produção de madeira e na maximização económica do negócio florestal, mas, fundamentalmente, na silvicultura de protecção, numa gestão florestal ambientalmente comprometida com a especificidade e a importância de cada árvore, originando uma “(…) floresta mais saudável e porventura até mais feliz (…) mais produtiva, o que por sua vez resulta num aumento das receitas.”. (Pág. 8)

Peter Wohlleben introduz ao longo do texto cinquenta e oito notas bibliográficas – que surgem referenciadas no final (mais de metade são em alemão o que no meu caso específico não servem absolutamente para nada - não as contei e sendo o escritor alemão! -); mas existem inúmeras referências e conceitos específicos florestais que obrigatoriamente deveriam ter notas de rodapé explicativas. Apenas alguns exemplos: o leitor comum não sabe o que é uma conífera ou uma caducifólia, o que são taninos tóxicos ou o que é a salicina, e muitos outros exemplos de que seria fastidioso continuar a referenciar.
A questão da tradução de um livro “técnico” florestal suscita inúmeras interrogações. No caso específico de ”A Vida Secreta das Árvores” - o que o livro pretende e, que se comprova, com os mais de 350.000 exemplares vendidos é ser objecto de leitura e divulgação para o maior número de pessoas que têm fascínio pela natureza, que valorizam as árvores e as florestas, e que se preocupam com a preservação dos recursos florestais, incluindo, todos os seres vivos, vegetais e animais, que vivem em simbiose num dos mais dinâmicos ecossistemas terrestres – a tradução ou a edição portuguesa é francamente má.
Concluindo, na minha perspectiva de leitor “florestal” ”A Vida Secreta das Árvores” foi um livro decepcionante. Adorei a temática: as Árvores são seres inteligentes; que sentem e comunicam entre si – através de uma “wood wide web”, o que nos conduz à descoberta de um mundo misterioso; mas não gostei da escrita/linguagem e, sobretudo, da abordagem ambígua sobre uma temática tão fascinante.
No entanto, não posso deixar de recomendar a leitura de ”A Vida Secreta das Árvores” aos leitores “comuns” que sentem admiração e atracção pelas árvores e pelas florestas, porque, efectivamente, “acontecem coisas espantosas na floresta: árvores que comunicam entre si (enviando sinais elétricos através de uma rede subterrânea de fungos). (…) Árvores que têm sensibilidade, sentimentos e memórias.” - na contracapa da edição portuguesa.
Agora vou ler: o livro de Stefano Mancuso Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence e Bernd Heinrich The Trees in My Forest.

”Uma árvore não faz a floresta, não é capaz de criar um clima local equilibrado, é vulnerável ao vento e às condições meteorológicas. Pelo contrário, muitas árvores juntas logram formar um ecossistema, capaz de mitigar o calor e frio extremos, de armazenar toda uma quantidade de água e de produzir ar bastante húmido. É neste tipo de ambiente que as árvores são capazes de viver protegidas e por muitos anos.” (Pág. 11)
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,619 followers
November 10, 2021
Fascinating insightful read about trees, and how they are a lot more complicated than you imagine. Really informative and interesting. Also manages to make many important points about ecology and preservation and living with nature and how very badly humans are screwing things up, without ever going into hectoring or smug mode, which makes it a lot more effective.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,211 reviews104 followers
January 6, 2022

So I do readily admit that the factual information presented in Peter Wohlleben's Das geheime Leben der Bäume: Was sie fühlen, wie sie kommunizieren - die Entdeckung einer verborgenen Welt has indeed been of very much personal (as well as of course academic) interest.

However and that being said, while I do in fact agree with MOST of the author's assertions, Peter Wohlleben’s writing style and the manner in which he has chosen to organise both his thoughts and his chapters are in my humble opinion rather woefully unscientific, unclear, even potentially confusing at times (not to mention that the emotional and anthropomorphic way in which Wohlleben depicts and describes his trees absolutely rubs me the wrong proverbial way, making Das geheime Leben der Bäume: Was sie fühlen, wie sie kommunizieren - die Entdeckung einer verborgenen Welt read more like fantasy literature, like a fairytale, like I am reading about J. R. R. Tolkien's Treebeard and the Ents instead of a supposedly scientific, non fiction analysis of trees and how they communicate with one another, something that I have found both annoyingly frustrating and also really quite insulting to trees).

Because let’s face it, trees are not humans and humans are not trees and in a book of for the most part scientific facts on and about trees, the latter should in no way be depicted and described with and by human attributes and qualities, as this diminishes trees in my opinion and makes Peter Wohlleben's discoveries, although I do happen to agree with what he claims and says, potentially questionable and above all imbued with an unscientific hippie tree hugger mentality (which in a non fiction tome of science really should at all costs be avoided).

And therefore, while I do still mildy recommend Das geheime Leben der Bäume: Was sie fühlen, wie sie kommunizieren - die Entdeckung einer verborgenen Welt (either in the German original or in its many translations), I personally can and will only grant a two star ranking maximum, and leave the necessary caveat that lack of organisation, lack of scientific rigour and the annoying tendency of the author, of Peter Wohlleben to write about trees as though they are humans or at least graced with human thoughts, human feelings etc., this does for me leave quite a bit to be desired (and equally a strange, rather bitter aftertaste in my mouth).
Profile Image for Paul.
2,309 reviews20 followers
July 26, 2017
This is an absolutely fascinating book. It shows a side to trees that will blow your mind (unless you're a smartypants and know it all already... but I'm pretty sure those people are in the minority).

The only criticism I have of the book is that the author does go off on the pure speculation bus every now and then, leaving the hard science at the station. It wasn't a problem for me as I'm used to reading scientific works and am pretty good at separating the facts from the flights of fancy. Folks who don't read much popular science might assume that everything the author says is fact and end up being slightly misled.

(There's also a note by a 'forest scientist' at the end of the book that I think would have worked much better at the beginning... but that's nitpicking and I'm not docking any stars for that.)

My wife started this one before I did and when I asked her how she was finding it she replied 'I will never look at a tree the same way again'. I laughed at the time but, having now read the book myself, I totally know what she means...
Profile Image for Richard Reese.
Author 3 books170 followers
September 26, 2016
As a young lad in Germany, Peter Wohlleben loved nature. He went to forestry school, and became a wood ranger. At this job, he was expected to produce as many high quality saw logs as possible, with maximum efficiency, by any means necessary. His tool kit included heavy machinery and pesticides. This was forest mining, an enterprise that ravaged the forest ecosystem and had no long-term future. He oversaw a plantation of trees lined up in straight rows, evenly spaced. It was a concentration camp for tree people.

Wohlleben is a smart and sensitive man, and over the course of decades he got to know the tree people very well. Eventually, his job became unbearable. Luckily, he made friends in the community of Hümmel, and was given permission to manage their forest in a less destructive manner. There is no more clear-cutting, and logs are removed by horse teams, not machines. In one portion of the forest, old trees are leased as living gravestones, where families can bury the ashes of kin. In this way, the forest generates income without murdering trees.

Wohlleben wrote The Hidden Life of Trees, a smash hit in Germany. It will be translated into 19 languages. The book is built on a foundation of reputable science, but it reads like grandpa chatting at fireside. He’s a gentle old storyteller explaining the wondrous magic of beautiful forests to befuddled space aliens from a crazy planet named Consume. He teaches readers about the family of life, a subject typically neglected in schools.

Evergreen trees have been around for 170 million years, and trees with leaves are 100 million years old. Until recently, trees lived very well without the assistance of a single professional forest manager. I’m serious! Forests are communities of tree people. Their root systems intermingle, allowing them to send nutrients to their hungry children, and to ailing neighbors. When a Douglas fir is struck by lightning, several of its close neighbors might also die, because of their underground connections. A tribe of tree people can create a beneficial local climate for the community.

Also underground are mycelium, the largest organisms yet discovered. One in Oregon weighs 660 tons, covers 2,000 acres (800 ha), and is 2,400 years old. They are fungi that send threads throughout the forest soil. The threads penetrate and wrap around tree roots. They provide trees with water, nitrogen, and phosphorus, in exchange for sugar and other carbohydrates. They discourage attacks from harmful fungi and bacteria, and they filter out heavy metals.

When a limb breaks off, unwelcome fungal spores arrive minutes later. If the tree can close off the open wound in less than five years, the fungi won’t survive. If the wound is too large, the fungi can cause destructive rot, possibly killing the tree. When a gang of badass beetles invades, the tree secretes toxic compounds, and sends warnings to other trees via scent messages, and underground electrical signals. Woodpeckers and friendly beetles attack the troublemakers.

Forests exist in a state of continuous change, but this is hard for us to see, because trees live much slower than we do. They almost appear to be frozen in time. Humans zoom through life like hamsters frantically galloping on treadmill, and we blink out in just a few decades. In Sweden, scientists studied a spruce that appeared to be about 500 years old. They were surprised to learn that it was growing from a root system that was 9,550 years old.

In Switzerland, construction workers uncovered stumps of trees that didn’t look very old. Scientists examined them and discovered that they belonged to pines that lived 14,000 years ago. Analyzing the rings of their trunks, they learned that the pines that survived a climate that warmed 42°F, and then cooled about the same amount — in a period of just 30 years! This is the equivalent of our worst-case projections today.

Dinosaurs still exist in the form of birds, winged creatures that can quickly escape from hostile conditions. Trees can’t fly, but they can migrate, slowly. When the climate cools, they move south. When it warms, they go north, like they are today — because of global warming, and because they continue to adapt to the end of the last ice age. A strong wind can carry winged seeds a mile. Birds can carry seeds several miles. A beech tree tribe can advance about a quarter mile per year (0.4 km).

Compared to trees, the human genome has little variation. We are like seven-point-something billion Barbie and Ken dolls. Tree genomes are extremely diverse, and this is key for their survival. Some trees are more drought tolerant, others are better with cold or moisture. So change that kills some is less likely to kill all. Wohlleben suspects that his beech forest will survive, as long as forest miners don’t wreck its soil or microclimate. (Far more questionable is the future of corn, wheat, and rice, whose genetic diversity has been sharply reduced by the seed sellers of industrial agriculture.)

Trees have amazing adaptations to avoid inbreeding. Winds and bees deliver pollen from distant trees. The ovaries of bird cherry trees reject pollen from male blossoms on the same tree. Willows have separate male trees and female trees. Spruces have male and female blossoms, but they open several days apart.

Boars and deer love to devour acorns and beechnuts. Feasting on nuts allows them to put on fat for the winter. To avoid turning these animals into habitual parasites, nuts are not produced every year. This limits the population of chubby nutters, and ensures that some seeds will survive and germinate. If a beech lives 400 years, it will drop 1.8 million nuts.

On deciduous trees, leaves are solar panels. They unfold in the spring, capture sunlight, and for several months manufacture sugar, cellulose, and other carbohydrates. When the tree can store no more sugar, or when the first hard frost arrives, the solar panels are no longer needed. Their chlorophyll is drained, and will be recycled next spring. Leaves fall to the ground and return to humus. The tree goes into hibernation, spending the winter surviving on stored sugar. Now, with bare branches, the tree is far less vulnerable to damage from strong winds, heavy wet snows, and ice storms.

In addition to rotting leaves, a wild forest also transforms fallen branches and trunks into carbon rich humus. Year after year, the topsoil becomes deeper, healthier, and more fertile. Tree plantations, on the other hand, send the trunks to saw mills. So, every year, tons of precious biomass are shipped away, to planet Consume. This depletes soil fertility, and encourages erosion. Plantation trees are more vulnerable to insects and diseases. Because their root systems never develop normally, the trees are more likely to blow down.

From cover to cover, the book presents fascinating observations. By the end, readers are likely to imagine that undisturbed forests are vastly more intelligent than severely disturbed communities of radicalized consumers. More and more, scientists are muttering and snarling, as the imaginary gulf between the plant and animal worlds fades away. Wohlleben is not a vegetarian, because experience has taught him that plants are no less alive, intelligent, and sacred than animals. It’s a wonderful book. I’m serious!
Profile Image for Julian Worker.
Author 35 books378 followers
May 31, 2022
The best book I've completed in 2022 so far.

A book of intriguing facts about the secret life of trees and how they support each other, feed each other, live with each other, and help each other survive.

The voice of the author is distinct in this book, a translation from the original German. The wry observations, understatements, and irony make this book entertaining and educational. The author has spent the whole of his adult life looking after trees, observing them, and understanding them.

Trees do migrate albeit very slowly, they are able to count, and they do know when to grow and when not to grow. They need their sleep or hibernation and they liaise with certain insects, fungi, and mosses to the mutual benefit of all. They can pass sugar and other nutrients from one tree to another via their roots, it doesn't have to be the same species of tree.

Other basic facts connected with trees and plants are also provided. Apparently, chlorophyll has a green gap and because it can't use this part of the colour spectrum, it has to reflect it back unused, which is why our eyes see the leaves as green - what we're seeing is reflected waste light.

Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,234 followers
January 5, 2022
I want/wanted to read about trees. I started another tree book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, and it was by someone from a logging family and I didn’t feel like reading a biography of a human/humans even if only a small part of the book and even this book starts off by a person who participated/participates in using trees. I got really tired of reading the sentences that start with or include “The forest I manage…” I’d love to read a tree book by an expert who is a pure nature lover and not someone whose current or past perspective includes trees for humans to use or to manage. Maybe Bill McKibben was right though. Ever since I read his book The End of Nature in the 80s I’ve never been able to look at “nature” in the same way and maybe we’ve altered everything so much that we’re interconnected with trees to the point where we can’t be separated. I do wonder about the anthropomorphizing though. Maybe I will have to read that other book and hopefully more tree books to cross reference the information. I’m fascinated. Maybe I need to read a very recent and up to date botany book about trees.

Overall though this is a beautifully written book. The most interesting facts for me were the ones about the trees’/forests’ elaborate ecosystems.

Reading about natural forests makes me want to go see the redwoods or the sequoias and I’m afraid I’ll enjoy my local trees less than I have. Heavily managed and relatively recently planted, they could very well be hindered in being the “natural trees” we all like to assume they are.

The trees information is fascinating and I learned a lot. He seems to know his subject matter though I do also want to read other books about trees to hopefully cover some of the same material and maybe learn even more than I did from this book, which I have to say is a lot. He does care about various forest/trees ecosystems and describes them in detail. It really is amazing. There is sort of some nature left, even if not untainted by humans on the planet.

The (too few) black pen/ink illustrations of trees are lovely. There aren’t very many of them though. I read a Kindle e-edition borrowed from my public library so I don’t know if it has all the pictures that are in the paper edition(s).

To sum up: I wanted to love this book but it just did not work for me. I do have quibbles with some of what is presented and how it’s presented, but mostly it’s probably not the book’s fault. I was hoping to even better appreciate the trees in the parklands I see on a regular basis but what I’m left with is some curiosity still unsatisfied and some sadness. I think maybe what would work for me is an on-site class, perhaps a walking through the trees class with an expert good at teaching.

2-1/2 stars for this book, rounded down because my reading experience was disappointing. Not a good start to my 2022 reading year. I hope that things improve.

ETA: (in addition to correcting typos): Because of the way information is presented I’m not sure I can trust all of the facts. I need to read that other book and more books and information from legitimate sites on the web too.
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