The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Published by Greystone Books on September 13th 2016
Genres: Botany, Essays, Life Sciences, Nature, Plants, Science, Trees
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I found plenty in The Hidden Life of Trees to make me wonder and to see trees in a new light. The connections which “make fungi something like the forest Internet”. The various ways trees exchange vital nutrients with each other. The use of scent as communication. The innovative ways that trees defend their leaves from predation. The methods trees use to intercept water. All these and other learnings I appreciated.
However, I found the book heavy-going and frustrating and was relieved when I finally made it to the end.
Great if you like pseudoscience
Wohlleben presents interesting hypotheses but often doesn’t back them up with scientific evidence. An example is when he talks about brain-like structures at root tips, and a mechanism to store memories and experiences. But where’s the evidence?
Some chapters seemed to come to an end before he could draw a conclusion. For example, he mentions three oaks that shed their leaves at slightly different times. This is seemingly because “the tree on the right is a bit more anxious than the others, or to put it more positively, more sensible.” He writes that “recent research has discovered something that at least calls into question the effects of transpiration and the forces of cohesion.” Great. But aren’t you going to tell us what it is?
A forest full of anthropomorphism
Beeches harass other species, pines resent competitors, mother trees have buddies. And long parts of the book are frankly quite boring. This is because he approaches many chapters in the same way. He introduces a topic and then goes through the list of how it relates to different trees. So first he talks about the oak, the beech, the silver birch, the Douglas fir, the spruce etc. When this device happens repeatedly it gets rather tedious. And most examples are western European trees with brief forays into North America. I would have loved to read more about Asian or African trees.
The Hidden Life of Trees does include gems of insight and knowledge. But for me, they are hidden amongst too much foliage.