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#18 Peter Wohlleben – The hidden life of trees

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  • As a rule, friendships that extend to looking after stumps can only be established in undisturbed forests. It could well be that all trees do this and not just beeches. I myself have observed oak, fir, spruce, and Douglas fir stumps that were still alive long after the trees had been cut down. Planted forests, which is what most of the coniferous forests in Central Europe are, behave more like the street kids I describe in chapter 27. Because their roots are irreparably damaged when they are planted, they seem almost incapable of networking with one another. As a rule, trees in planted forests like these behave like loners and suffer from their isolation. Most of them never have the opportunity to grow old anyway. Depending on the species, these trees are considered ready to harvest when they are only about a hundred years old.
  • In the symbiotic community of the forest, not only trees but also shrubs and grasses—and possibly all plant species—exchange information this way. However, when we step into farm fields, the vegetation becomes very quiet. Thanks to selective breeding, our cultivated plants have, for the most part, lost their ability to communicate above or below ground—you could say they are deaf and dumb—and therefore they are easy prey for insect pests.12 That is one reason why modern agriculture uses so many pesticides. Perhaps farmers can learn from the forests and breed a little more wildness back into their grain and potatoes so that they’ll be more talkative in the future.
  • In exchange for the rich sugary reward, the fungi provide a few complimentary benefits for the tree, such as filtering out heavy metals, which are less detrimental to the fungi than to the tree’s roots.
  • And what if an oak gets a deep wound or a wide crack in its trunk as a result of a lightning strike? That doesn’t matter to the oak, because its wood is permeated with substances that discourage fungi and severely slow down fungal decomposition. These tannins also scare off most insects and, incidentally and inadvertently, improve the taste of wine—should a barrel ever be made from the tree. (Think “oaked” wine.)
  • Look for trees that have numerous bushy trunks or thick callouses at the base where periodic felling has encouraged a proliferation of growth. Are these trunks now young trees, or alternatively, are they really thousands of years old? This is a question also asked by scientists, among them a group researching ancient spruce in Dalarna province in Sweden. The oldest spruce in Dalarna has grown a carpet of flat shrubby growth around its single small trunk. All this growth belongs to one tree, and its roots were tested using carbon 14 dating. Carbon 14 is a radioactive carbon that continuously forms in the atmosphere and then gradually decays. This means that the ratio of carbon 14 to other carbon in the atmosphere is always the same. Once carbon 14 is incorporated into inactive biomasses, for instance wood, the process of decay continues unabated, but no new radioactive carbon is accumulated. The lower the amount of radioactive carbon it contains, the older the tissue must be. Research revealed the spruce to be an absolutely unbelievable 9,550 years old. The individual shoots were younger, but these new growths from the past few centuries were not considered to be stand-alone trees but part of a larger whole.
  • If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old, which is exactly what large conservation groups are asking us to do.
  • And don’t worry about that foam that sometimes forms in these pools after heavy rains. What looks like an environmental disaster is, in fact, the result of humic acids that tiny waterfalls have mixed with air until they turn into froth. These acids come from the decomposition of leaves and dead wood and are extremely beneficial for the ecosystem.
  • “Und wenn ich geh, dann geht nur ein Teil von mir.” “And when I go, only a part of me is gone.” This phrase from a hit by German pop singer Peter Maffay could have been written by a tree.
  • It seems the trees can count! They wait until a certain number of warm days have passed, and only then do they trust that all is well and classify the warm phase as spring. But warm days alone do not mean spring has arrived.
  • Mosses move into places on the trunk where the water trickles down after a shower. It’s not an even distribution because most trees are tilted slightly to one side. A small stream forms on the upper side of a slight bend, and that’s what the moss taps into. Incidentally, that is why you can’t rely on moss if you want to figure out compass directions.
  • In climates where there is rain year round, moss supposedly indicates the weather side of the tree, where the trunk gets wet when the rain hits it; however, in the middle of the forest, where the wind is stilled, rain usually falls vertically. In addition, each tree is bent in a slightly different direction, so if you were to orient yourself according to moss, you’d only end up confused.
  • An old German saying about storms in the forest, “Eichen sollst du weichen, Buchen sollst du suchen,” translates as “Avoid oaks, seek beeches.” The saying originates in the fact that on some gnarly old oaks you can see a channel a few inches wide extending down the trunk where a lightning strike has split the bark open and penetrated deep into the wood. I’ve never seen a scar like this on the trunk of a beech.
  • There is a scientific observation that speaks to this: the blood pressure of forest visitors rises when they are under conifers, whereas it calms down and falls in stands of oaks.
  • Personally, however, I think the swirling cocktail of tree talk is the reason we enjoy being out in the forest so much. At least when we are out in undisturbed forests.
  • Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home. If they walk instead through coniferous forests, which in Central Europe are mostly planted and are, therefore, more fragile, artificial places, they don’t experience such feelings. Possibly it’s because in ancient beech forests, fewer “alarm calls” go out, and therefore, most messages exchanged between trees are contented ones, and these messages reach our brains as well, via our noses. I am convinced that we intuitively register the forest’s health. Why don’t you give it a try?
  • And that is why it is so awful for a tree if the soil around its trunk has been so compacted that the small air pockets in the soil have been crushed. The tree’s roots suffocate, or at least have difficulty breathing, with the result that the tree gets sick.
  • That means it is okay to use wood as long as trees are allowed to live in a way that is appropriate to their species. And that means that they should be allowed to fulfill their social needs, to grow in a true forest environment on undisturbed ground, and to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. And at least some of them should be allowed to grow old with dignity and finally die a natural death.
  • Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at the Hokkaido University, discovered that leaves falling into streams and rivers leach acids into the ocean that stimulate the growth of plankton, the first and most important building block in the food chain. More fish because of the forest? The researcher encouraged the planting of more trees in coastal areas, which did, in fact, lead to higher yields for fisheries and oyster growers.

Written by kirpi4

December 30th, 2019 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Cărți

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