Trees were already my heroes, and since reading “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World” by Peter Wohlleben and Tim Flannery I have become even more entranced with them. Because I am excited about the information, here is a brief summary of some of the fascinating they are discovering about trees.

They are social beings, they live in community, communicating amongst themselves and with other species. They have memories, experience pain and nurse their young.

The languages they use to communicate are chemical signals through the air and underground electrical signals. Sugars, nutrients and electrical signals are passed through a network of interconnected roots and fungi under the earth. Dr. Suzanne Simard, UBC, calls this the “wood wide web.” Sending pheromones and chemical signals through the air they warn each other of dangers such as insect attacks and diseases and work together as a community to help ward off threats.

They form friendships to help each other stay healthy and live longer – they care for each other. If one in their community is sick others come to its aid by sending them the vital sugar and nutrients via their “wood wide web.”

If one tree in a community is getting lots of sun and water and is making more than enough sugar for itself it shares with trees that are not in ideal growing conditions, equalizing the amount of sugar for each tree in the community.

They also communicate with other species such as birds and insects through their emissions.

They operate much more slowly on a different time table than we do, however they have a sense of time and the ability to remember. They sense temperature and day length, compare the amount of sunlight from one day to the next to know when to let their leaves fall.

They are also individuals. Even trees of the same species living in the same conditions don’t react in the same way, and some of them make bad decisions for their health and survival just the way humans do.

They learn. If a tree goes through a dry spell and uses too much of its stored water, it will ration its water in the future even if there is plenty of water at the time.

If a tree suffers pain and injuries in its trunk it fortifies the weak areas.

Trees are heroically working to improve the quality of our air –trapping large quantities of pollen, dust and pollutants produced by humans, and giving back beneficial compounds such as phytoncides that have antibiotic properties. During the day a healthy forest is high in oxygen but at night, when the trees are resting from photosynthesizing they are emitting carbon dioxide, which is why we have a different experience being in the forest at night.

A crucial bit of information: It is the old growth forests that are adding beneficial compounds to the air. Trees in planted, artificially managed forests are sending out distress messages and pumping out defensive chemicals that cause stress in humans. 

Trees in forests act as “water pumps” taking vapor that blows in from the ocean and transferring that water, forest by forest, deeper into inland regions so they don’t dry out.

They are crucial to the global carbon cycle, influencing our global climate.

More recent studies show that many established assumptions are not accurate, and that they are much more like animals than has previously been believed.

One of the assumptions to be rethought: Scientists have believed spruce trees live about five hundred years. In Sweden, a small spruce trunk surrounded by shrubby growth was found and researchers concluded its roots are 9,550 years old. Until this discovery they believed that the first conifer appeared in this region only about 2,000 years ago. Wohlleben says “For me, this inconspicuous small plant is a symbol for how little we understand about forests and trees and how many wonders we have yet to discover.”

And all of this is the measurable science. Just as science has yet to pin down our human soul, our spirit, our consciousness under the microscope, personally I believe it is the same for trees. They too have their unique consciousness and are willing and available to interact with us should we be open to it. Many of our ancestors knew this and in these times we are being invited to reawaken, re-connect, re-integrate and recognize our interdependence with the phenomenal more-than-humans around us. 

Next time you meet a tree, please treat with dignity and offer gratitude. 

Better yet, approach with respect, be gentle and don’t trample their roots, ask permission to engage, introduce yourself, reveal more about yourself and your life (just as would when talking with any intimate) so they get to know you — and then breathe, breathe some more, be still, listen, listen, listen.  Prepare to be amazed!

We humans tend to take from, want something from.  This time offer yourself, your friendship.  Of course, if you have permission, touch, hug, lean, embrace.  Breathe with.   

And don’t forget to express your gratitude when you leave.

love, light, laughter, linda

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