A German forester and author named Peter Wohileben has written a book titled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. The book has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and has hit the best-seller list in 11 other countries including the U.S. and Canada. He was quoted in the March issue of Smithsonian magazine as saying, “We must at least talk about the rights of trees.” Since we are concerned about human rights should we also be thinking of tree rights?
According to the article in Smithsonian, scientific evidence indicates “that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species.” Wohileben says that trees in every forest “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate.” What Wohileben is talking about is a symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi underground. The hair-like root tips of trees join together through fungal filaments to form a mycorrhizal network. The fungi consume sugar from the tree roots as they pull nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals from the soil which are absorbed by the roots for use by the trees.
The trees communicate through their “wood-wide-web” by “sending chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals.” The large trees with deep roots draw up water which benefits the shallow-rooted trees. The article says that trees also share nutrients with each other, even between species. In addition to the underground network trees also communicate with each other through the release of chemicals into the air, and they release large amounts of moisture into the air feeding rain systems.
Wohileben presents his story of the trees as if they have intelligence. He says that we must “allow some trees to grow old with dignity, and die a natural death.” Multiple scientists refute Wohileben saying that trees are not “sentient beings” and call Wohileben’s ideas anthropomorphism.
Recently my driveway was covered with Michigan summer snow. The temperature was 92 degrees, and the snow was falling at an alarming rate. I didn’t get out my snow blower, but I did get out my leaf blower.
Michigan summer snowflakes are one-to-two inches in diameter. Contained within each snowflake is a seed. These snowflakes can travel for miles when the wind is blowing because they are carefully engineered so that their density is the same as the air here in Michigan on a hot early summer day. They only stop when they hit an obstruction, but even a dandelion or a tall weed can stop them. The cotton that surrounds the seed is highly soluble in water. As soon as it rains or the sprinkler system comes on, the cotton will dissolve, and the seed will fall to the ground and try to become a new cottonwood tree.
The eastern cottonwood is the state tree in Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. It can grow as much as six feet in one year and can become one of the largest trees in North America. Because they grow so fast, the wood of cottonwood trees is not very strong. But when you have a tree 190 feet tall, there is a great deal you can do with it. The Native Americans made canoes from the trunks of cottonwood trees. They used the bark of the tree as forage for horses, and the sprouts for food and medicinal tea.
Cottonwood trees come in both male and female varieties with different life cycles. The males don’t make seeds. In the spring the female trees have tiny red blossoms. When the females are pollinated by the male trees, they form a spherical cotton ball with a seed inside. The volume of the cotton is exactly enough to give buoyancy to lift the seed off the ground, but not so enough for it to be lost in the atmosphere. The cotton balls with their seeds flow across the landscape in the same way that cold air blows snow in winter. The seeds can be so thick that we can’t see across our street.
It is a wonderful thing to see all the different methods that God designed into trees to allow them to reproduce. Maple trees use tiny helicopters to lower seeds to the ground. Oak trees use acorns to entice squirrels to bury their seeds. Squirrels have enough memory space in their brains to remember where most of the seeds are, but not all of them. Cottonwoods create summer snow.