Do trees talk to each other? Do they develop friendship? Do they take care of their young ones? In short, do trees communicate with each other? Well, prepare for a surprise – Yes they do! Findings of a renown German forester, Peter Wohlleben, have revealed that trees have feelings and are capable of forming strong bonds with each other. They also take care of each over a period of many years. Peter has shaken the forestry world with his ideas in his bestselling book: The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate.
To delay possible refutations that might claim such findings as impossible in the scientific realm, you may flex your thoughts on the latest scientific studies conducted at reputable universities, Like Leipzig in Germany among others around the world, which concur with the possibility that communication exists in the world of trees. Scientists are now coming to realize that trees are far more alert, communal and embody a sophisticated communication channel. In other words, trees are much more intelligent than we had initially thought.
As I am typing this while turning and twitching on my swivel somewhere along Ngong Road in Nairobi, I push open the office window slightly to listen to the calm rustles of the nearby canopies in the Thursday afternoon breeze. Behold, they look like they do really talk. The enthralling thorny Acacias scattered in most parts of Strathmore University are becoming more vibrantly alive and charged with wonder.
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Maybe, just maybe, trees do communicate with each other. Come to think of it, with the variability in geophysical phenomena that interacts with trees every single day, from the time they are young, it would be impossible for a tree to thrive and establish an ecosystem on its own; with so much solitude. Alone, a tree is at the mercy of extreme weather conditions. However, together, they create an ecosystem that: moderates extreme temperatures and creates food reservoirs enabling them to grow for more than a century old.
For acacias in the semi-arid areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, tremendous struggles with the tropical heat and death-defying dramas from the towering browsers such as giraffes are a menace that can only be endured through collaboration. Acacias survive the African Savannah by communicating through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals just like animals.
When a hungry giraffe browses on acacia leaves, the tree feels the injury and releases a distress signal in the form of ethylene gas. When the neighboring acacias detect the signal, they start exuding tannins into their leaves to sicken or send away browsers. This is the reason why Africa giraffes have evolved to browse against the wind lest they get poisoned by an acacia on alert.
We have generally assumed that trees are disconnected, competitive and lonely components of our biodiversity. A growing body of scientific evidence now refutes this idea. Trees of similar species are communal and will often take care of their young and share resources through complex chemical signaling systems happening at the mycorrhizal end of their roots.
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Apart from leaving us awed by their less-understood social characteristics, trees still perplex us further by their regeneration capability. Trees suck in water and nutrients from the soil to make food for humans, birds, mammals and other trees. The system is so perfect to an extent that unlike humans, they don’t need to move elsewhere to thrive. They simply absorb the carbon dioxide in their surroundings to release a fresh breath of Oxygen during the day – a critical element for the survival of aerobic organisms. Trees thrive without wasting resources neither do they pollute – a perfect example worth emulating in a world lacking the principles of circular economy.