Do Trees Communicate?

Last Friday and Saturday a builder had all the trees on a vacant lot near my house taken down in preparation for starting a new build. While I understand that it’s his prerogative to do what he wants on his property, and certainly none of my business, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to the chainsaws buzzing away from dawn until dusk. Then Sunday morning, while I was out with my dog, I paused to look at the barren land. It was just so devastatingly empty. Birds fluttered around, hopping from the ground to a stump, and I’m sure they were looking for their homes.

Poor birds. Poor trees.

All the while the work was being done, I couldn’t help but wonder why the trees were taken down. There was only one that was diseased and needed to come down, the others were all healthy trees. Since these trees were on the edges of the property line, perhaps they were going to interfere with a fence. That’s the only logical reason I could think of for removing them, but I couldn’t help but think there could’ve been a creative way to fence the yard and save the trees.

I take lots of pictures of trees. This photo was taken at Holly Lake Ranch in TX. I wonder if these two trees are talking to each other.

People who know me are not surprised when I say that I’ve had a long love affair with trees. It started when I was a child and would climb the large Elm in my backyard. Sometimes to read. Other times to just sit and be away from everything and everybody else. Often it was a refuge, and I was devastated when the people who bought my mother’s house years later said the tree had to go. Not for any other reason than they didn’t want the branches to touch the roof.

“Couldn’t we just trim the tree back?”

“No. It has to go.”

So it went, and I cried. As much for the needless death of the tree as the thought that nobody else would ever climb that tree for some peace and solitude.

Fast forward many years later when I moved to rural East Texas with my husband. Our property was surrounded by towering pine trees and some hardwoods, the setting selling us on the house before we even went inside. The prettiest tree was across the road on my neighbor’s fence-line – a tall, magnificent birch that was arrayed in golden splendor every Autumn. One day I heard the loud buzz of chainsaws, went outside, and saw all the trees coming down, including that beautiful birch.

Again I cried.

For a long time I thought my affinity to trees was a bit silly, and perhaps it is in the minds of some folks, but there are others who share a similar affection for trees.

“When we have learned how to listen to trees,” Hermann Hesse wrote in his lyrical love letter to our arboreal companions, “then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

In a meditation from the late summer of 1876, Walt Whitman writes:
“How strong, vital, enduring! how dumbly eloquent! What suggestions of imperturbability and being, as against the human trait of mere seeming. Then the qualities, almost emotional, palpably artistic, heroic, of a tree; so innocent and harmless, yet so savage. It is, yet says nothing.”

Those two wise and creative men recognized that there is more to a tree than just the trunk and leaves and bark, and now there is scientific proof of that.

Consider this from Peter Wohlleben a forester in Germany who wrote the book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel and how They Communicate. In an interview with Richard Grant for the article, Do Trees Talk to Each Other published in The Smithsonian Magazine, Wohlleben said, “All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”

Ecologist Suzanne Simard, who received a PhD in Forest Sciences at Oregon State University, has studied trees in the Canadian wilderness since the early 90s, and she’s written numerous articles about how trees are connected. In an interview on NPR in 2021 she said, “Trees are “social creatures” that communicate with each other in cooperative ways that hold lessons for humans, too.”

Simard is a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia and the author of the book, Finding the Mother Tree. She is a colleague of Peter Wohlleben, and they appeared together in the documentary film Intelligent Trees.

So, maybe I’m not so silly after all. 🙂

That’s all from me for today folks. I do hope this is the start of a great week for everyone. Be safe. Be happy.

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