AFTER THE STORM – Talking Trees!

Seven weeks following the May Ice Storm, what many consider was the storm of the century . . .

Sculptor & Location Unknown

Damaged tree limbs continue falling because of the wind, heat and subsequent dryness. A sprinkle of rain amid calm hot days restores temporary quiet to our woodland.

The scorching hot days, tornado-like winds, and the smoke-filled air from northern forest fires had given me permission to postpone mowing the lawn and the pathway through our woods. Today, there’s not even a breeze to scatter the haze hanging on the horizon.

Expecting to slice through lengthy grass and thick weeds, instead the mower’s blades are searing off the tops of seedlings, some small, but most well established, leafy and flourishing. In the course of the three hours of mowing, it becomes clear that these seedlings have sprung out in direct line to the few hundred trees that were damaged during the May ice storm. My little grey cells are buzzing… for every bent or broken bough is a carpet of seedlings!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Curiosity fizzing, I decide to check out two saplings that earlier in the spring were bearing Black Knot growth. Had the fungus been affected by the ice storm? Had the ice crushed them, petrifying or paralyzing the spores? To my dismay, the thin branches spotted with black gunk had not only survived, but had passed on their nasty excrescence to three young trees nearby. Might humans not be the only ones to have a ‘get ya while you’re down’ tendency towards each other?

Mowing completed and in need of a shower and tick screening, I make my way back to the house, my thoughts mulling over the words of a physician who had schooled me during my days of long-distant running. He’d say that I should draw strength from the trees, that they would give me the energy I needed at those times when one thinks one just can’t run any further. If trees could give me energy to complete the last mile of a run, could they not also intentionally spread their energies to restore their own kind after being battered and destroyed? What if part of their survival programming is that they communicate with each other and the world around them!

Strange But True (2019)

I wait excitedly to share with my loved ones at dinner my suspicions that trees are collaborating with each other. The evening meal set, I blurt out, “I think our trees are talking to each other! The damaged ones have specifically sprouted seedlings directly in front of them. And, the leaves on all trees are thicker than ever! It seems they’re working particularly hard after the ice storm to restore and expand.”

Late Spring Tunnel Oil on Canvas David Hockney 2006

The expert tree pruner in the family chuckles and says admiringly, “Talking trees, huh?” Smile. Munch. “I’d expect nothing less from your imagination.” Chew… It’s dinnertime, after all.

Though I appreciate the kind acknowledgement of my being a creative, the comment only further underlines why my past career in sales was short-lived. I press on, sharing my observations. The tree-pruner hardly convinced, the subject is immediately dropped.

Next on my hit list of people with whom I could share my observations is the science teacher in the family. After working yet another fifteen hour day, she listens politely, smiles, nods, and showing support of my enthusiasm, says, “That’s so interesting… very interesting!”

Not having a green thumb nor being interested in cultivating one, I succumb to the expertise of my loved ones, trying to shove the notion out of my brain that the trees in our woods are talking to each other, all in nature’s design of furthering the species. But, try as I might, the thought of trees communicating continues to niggle at my little grey cells for a few more days. Giving up on trying to fight the thoughts off, I dive into researching the remote possibility that trees converse.

Wood Wide Web – It’s a real thing!

Voila! My observations prove true… trees do talk to each other!

Trees use what has been coined, The Wood Wide Web, to form societies and to look out for their kin. source Not only do they communicate fluidly through this intricate underground web of microbes source, they also share information and nutrients with their neighbours. Unfortunately, this includes diseases as well, which would explain the Black Knot showing up on those adolescent trees mentioned about earlier.

Canadian born Suzanne Simard, the world’s foremost expert on trees’ interactive and communicative below-ground network says forests even have Mother Trees, that when DNA samples are taken from acres of trees, one can easily determine which is the hub tree, the Mother Tree.

Adventures in Zambezia (2012)

Photographer unknown

Peter Wohlleben, German forester and author, suggests that Mother Trees “suckle their young”. He further purports that trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals. Source

Not only do trees suckle and smell, Wohllenben says trees defend themselves. He gives the example of how in Africa, when a giraffe chews on acacia leaves, the tree emits ethylene gas, signaling neighbouring trees that then pump large quantities of tannins into their leaves in a dosage sufficient enough to sicken the herbivore. Avoiding pending doom by understanding the nature of the gas and how it dissipates, the savvy giraffe simply walks a hundred meters or more to feed on an acacia where the gas has fizzled out.

Please Don’t Eat My Mother! (1973)

Sculptor Tim Tingle, Orr Park, Montevallo, Alabama

Wohlleben is adamant that trees detect scents and that they have a sense of taste. Should leaf-eating caterpillars attack elms or pine, for example, trees release defensive pheromones that attract hungry wasps.

Dr. Monica Gagliano from the University of Western Australia and her colleagues’ research on the cognition of plant life seemingly supports the work of both Whollenben and Simard, while other scientists bash the idea that trees are anything more than woody perennials void of unique intelligences. Any attempt by dendrologists, foresters, arborists, botanists and the like to suggest that trees have emotion, cognition, or a spirit is often vehemently dismissed by others.

While the cogency of tree research is debated, the late Columbia University scientist, Gordon Jacoby Jr., used Douglas Fir trees to determine natural disasters, some of which took place a thousand years ago, such as the estimated Magnitude-8 earthquake that rocked the Pacific Northwest in 1700, flooding the Washington-Oregon coastline, and which was in all probability responsible for the tsunami that “washed over Japan” on January 27th of that same year.

Sculptor Tim Tingle, Orr Park, Montevallo, Alabama

Jacoby Jr. left no tree unturned, having traveled the globe to study them. Another example of how the trees spoke to him, Jacoby Jr. and his colleague, Rosanne D’Arrigo, published a 300-year climate record based on their examination of trees in Alaska and Canada. Source

Suffice it to say that the study of trees is in its sapling stage. Let’s hope that arrogance in some scientific circles will not slice off viable research before it has a chance to grow and flourish, thus providing us with the understanding we need to strategically support Mother Earth’s and our survival. Imagine what would have happened had physicists stopped working on the Higgs bosun. It took nearly six decades to substantiate its existence, but substantiated it was.

The Tree (2010)

Whether one is a believer or not in tree communication and their Wood Wide Web, from a practical perspective we’re told that walking amongst the trees is beneficial to our health. Forest Bathing is becoming popular while also under microscopic scrutiny.

Psychologist Jill Suttie, Psy.D., says that “people living in proximity to trees have better amygdala integrity”—the part of the brain understood to be responsible for reactive emotions such as the fight or flight reflex, along with functions like memory and attention span. According to Suttie, “even short amounts of time in a forest can give us a break from our frenzied lifestyles”. Source

Les Alyscamps, Allee in Arles Van Gogh 1888
NEAR CASSIS Andre Derain 1907

Suttie cites study after study proving that living near trees or participating in tree walks or tree bathing: Source

  • Benefits our immune system—decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines;
  • Benefits heart health—
    • Walking in trees lowers people’s blood pressure, cortisol levels, pulse rates, and sympathetic nervous system activity (related to stress), while increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity (related to relaxation);
  • Helps us to feel kinder and more generous—this could be a result of our feeling healthier in general, yes?
  • Lowers crime rates—
    • Studies in several major American cities reveal that as tree canopy cover increases, crime rates drop, this to include assaults, robbery, battery, and crimes related to narcotics;
  • Induces human natural killer (NK) cell activity—
    • According to the National Library of Medicine in the United States, Phytoncides, the essential oils in wood, have proven to stimulate NK cells which are responsible for our survival by responding to a variety of cytokines and other stimuli. Source

Reading the above leaves me thrilled that I am surrounded by acres of woodland, while it also generates within a warrior spirit to protect the seedlings, saplings, and mature trees that grace my space on Planet Earth.

Olive Trees at Collioure Henri Matisse, Summer 1906??
Picnic Under The Trees Julius LeBlanc Stewart 1895
The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy) Van Gogh 1889

Tree of Souls (2009)

Simard’s ground-breaking research has not only impacted the science world and forests at large, but it has directly impacted films such as Mission Ninety-Two: Dragonfly, while influencing filmmakers like James Cameron, creator of Tree of Souls in his movie, Avatar. It seems appropriate to close with an Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe song performed by movie icon, Clint Eastwood, in the film, Paint Your Wagon

Arrow & the Song
May the Road Rise to Meet You
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Looking Back
Can’t help Lovin’ That Man
Young As The Spring
Danny Boy | Too-Ra-Loo | How Ireland Got Its Name
ROSE in a BROKEN BOTTLE – Adult novel based on a true story
NINE GIFTS- with Study Guide
THE CURSE – with Study Guide
RUSH of the RAVEN’S WINGS – Youth short story with Study Guide
NO PASSPORT FOR ÉTIENNE – Short story inspired by true events
THEFT OF BABY ILY – Short story inspired by true events
MYSTERY of the SINGING GHOST – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the TRACTOR GHOST – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the THREE SISTERS – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the LOST CELL PHONE – with Study Guide
TEDDY MEETS KIBOKO – Children’s novel with Study Guide
KIDNAPPED SANTA – Children’s novel with Study Guide

Learn More about Tree Communication

General Info:

Trees and Health:

The Scientists:

Suzanne Simard

Gordon Jacoby Jr.

Peter Wohlleben


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