The wisdom of trees by Susan Grimsdell
Trees are smarter than we think; in fact, smarter than us. Trees have survived through eons of time. In contrast, our species is unlikely to survive for very much longer, considering what we are doing to the climate and considering the way we destroy one another in our millions.
The need for water
Trees, like every living thing, need water. When you think of all the different conditions trees have to face in order to grow, it’s a bit like our society, where kids are born into different circumstances and have to try to grow anyway. Some trees find themselves in rich fertile soil, full of nutrients, others have to cope with stony soil that doesn’t hold much water. Just like us, where some kids are born with every advantage, while others find themselves in situations where they struggle.
Sometimes humans help each other by the wealthier paying into a fund (tax) to help poorer people. But sometimes this doesn’t happen, and poor people are left by the wayside. Trees in a forest, by contrast, always help one another.
Sharing of resources
The way they do that is by sharing water through their roots. There’s an incredible network of roots underground, but the amazing thing is, trees recognise the roots of their own species and those are the ones they connect with and pass water along to. This results in all trees of a species in a forest having enough water to be able to grow and thrive. The weakest trees take a bigger share of water into their roots than trees that are already strong.
Nutrient exchange and helping neighbours in time of need is the rule. Trees seem to realise that an individual tree is only as strong as the forest it lives in. Guess what? That applies to us too. We all do better when we all do better.
An isolated tree can’t create a consistent local climate. It’s at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that stores a lot of water and also generates humidity.
If every tree were looking out only for itself, many would not reach old age. When a tree dies it leaves a gap in the canopy which makes it easier for storms to get into the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. All the trees would suffer, including the ones that are tall and seemingly strong. They need each other.
One maxim that does not apply to a healthy age-old forest is “survival of the fittest”. That’s not the way forests endure. Trees are sensitive to one another and help each other. This sounds bizarre, but it’s scientific truth!
We have a lot to learn from trees, when it comes to finding ways for our human society to survive.
Adapted from The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, 2015